As any successful business owner can tell you being successful is all about building relationships with your customers. This article speaks to the value of social networking sites as relationship builders which, if managed correctly, have the potential to bring in more business.
For the past few days I have been working on obtaining testimonials for several of my clients who we are helping to create new websites. In the process of interviewing the customer’s client- I ask a series of questions which help me in outlining my client’s brand. One question I ask is “why did you choose this company.” In many cases, what I find, is that the company is already known to the client either because they frequently see the company office, or have a family member or friend that has done business with them. “Word of mouth” is the easiest way to get new business as a relationship of trust has been established via a third party’s experience with the company.
Because most businesses cannot rely solely on word of mouth to generate all their business they try other means of building a relationship such as direct mail, advertisements, radio, and television to name a few.
Increasingly, the internet is becoming a primary means to begin to build a relationship with customers and to target market segments. So how can one establish trust over the internet, which, to many, seems so impersonal and lacking the one-on-one contact that is associated with building a trusting relationship? The answer is simple- just as email usage has grown as a means of communication-social networking sites such as Linkedin and Twitter are being used as tools to share information, share resources, assess consumer needs, to network, and to establish collaborative business relationships. This is not just a local phenomenon- this is happening worldwide. Currently, I am regularly communicating with people in 8 countries and I have not even begun to use all of the available social networking tools.
Although I use these sites primarily for business-there is great value in using the sites to locate old friends, schoolmates, and colleagues. However, in these instances, I use my email or phone to communicate and do not use a public venue to exchange personal information, as I feel it detracts from the community user experience with these public forums. I have heard many online users talking about using proper “netiquette” related to these sites and the consensus is that you should treat the online community communication experience the same as you would in your personal and professional life, e.g. no advertising, spamming, stalking, rude behavior, etc.
In summary, I do not approach social networking sites as a way to socialize or make friends. Just as in “real life” this may happen over time with people you regularly communicate with and have much in common. I keep my online presence cordial and professional and all of the social networking sites to which I am a member have the same professional photo of me, and company information. I do not use my blog, Facebook, Twitter or other sites to tell people what I am doing at the moment as some do. I post links to my articles, offer and ask for advice, link to other’s articles, to interesting technology tools, and marketing resources. It is my belief that one’s online identity can complement and even enhance their face-to-face relationships if one makes a concerted effort to give as well as to receive. As in real life, by taking the time to grow your social networks, business contacts, and by regularly communicating with potential customers to assess their needs- you will have a greater chance of growing your business.