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You might need a pad, pen and a tea or coffee for this one.

‘Online Social Networking’ is simply an online version of what well marketed businesses have always done. Most successful businesses have built their brand and awareness through networking and building solid relationships. Common opportunities to flex networking muscles might be conferences, trade shows, extended friends and parties. If done correctly (not like a machine) your name and your companies brand can be leaders in your industry within only a couple of years.
Online networking follows the same methodology, gaining access to related industry groups, interacting professionally with followers and showing you authority by providing valuable information and insights.
Social network marketing is quite different from paid marketing, it is what we call earned media. The term “earned” means that you can gain a following of interested people based on what you ‘put in’ to a network, not what you pay for in advertisements.
Like every business opportunity, social networking must be approached in the right way to make it work. You can’t just jump in blindly and see how it goes. There are strategies you need to learn to get the most from each social site and develop a respected brand. 
  1. Research your target audience 
Who do you want to connect with? Look at your previous sales and customer base to help understand where the majority of your sign ups or sales come from. Find trends in geographic location, age if possible, gender, interests (gained through sending surveys or creating polls on your site)
Understanding your current customer base will help you decide where to focus your efforts and how to angle your wording. 
  1. Lay the footings 
Set up Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts that are extensions of your main site. The search these networks to find people who share your interest in the same topics or industries. Post ‘taster’ topics of interest sourced from your main site to encourage readers to visit and sign up to newsletters etc. 
  1. Build and reinforce your followers 
Place the “Follow me on Twitter” and “Check out my Facebook fan page” links in your email signatures, blog posts, newsletter footers, on your storefront and anywhere else you can think of. Ensure you have an existing fan base before you promote to hard, new visitors will more likely follow you if they see others are already 
  1. Reinforce your brand 
Social networking and consumer engagement have made a fundamental change in how brand marketing works. A brand is not only a logo and packaging but also emotional, it’s how you deliver your message and everything you do.
Ensure all your posts, tweets and comments follow your desired brand goal. You need a consistent message to build a brand. Use the same logo and taglines on all your signatures etc. Your posts can reflect your area of expertise, impress your clients and build up brand identity. 
  1. Build Referrals 
Try to bait others to mention your domain, company name or even link to you. This creates a kind of chatter which search engines take in to account when ranking your site. It also drives targeted, referred traffic to your site, you can’t ask for better traffic than that. 
  1. Keep it real 
Networking markets demand openness from the companies who want to sell into those markets. Professional marketers won’t get the same response as a real person with ideas and opinions do. Whether you have a happy employee or you prefer to represent yourself, people in your network will appreciate chatting with a ‘human’ 
  1. Targeting a Niche 
Identify a virtual community who are interested in the same topics or industry. If you’re creating a new niche in your market like predesigned graphical laminate for cupboards, then create a new community by searching for others in broader industries to do with carpentry and design. Seed it with your current closest relationships, and watch it grow.
Another advantage for creating a niche is that existing networkers are probably too busy to add a general site to their group, they might be more willing if it’s specific and interests them. 
  1. Participate on other sites related to your niche
Find forums or other types of sites like StumbleUpon where you might find an existing thriving community in your demographic. By involving yourself in this network and linking back to your site, you can drive a whole new group of like minded people to follow you. 
  1. Seed your site 
Have you ever been the first to place a post on a new forum? When visitors see activity and interest from others, they’re far more likely to join in. So seed your site with the kind of content you want users to generate and interact with. Where do I start? Ask your friends and family to start things off. Give them a short list of topics to help them out. In the case of a store, ask them to comment on your blog posts. 
  1. Work your existing community 
Don’t let your followers go stale, it’s time to interact. By offering incentives like competitions and questionnaires, you can encourage interaction between your members. They will exchange more information, get to know one another more and maybe even talk more about you and your company. Active followers will create more of a buzz for new followers to get interested in. 
Other benefits of social marketing
The internet has always been a great medium for delivering information quickly and effectively. Social networking takes this to the next level. Now that you have built your community of followers, use it to share not only useful advice, but to update thousands of people about new product releases, one day sales and exclusive deals. This will generate daily influxes of visitors that are 100% interested in what you’re offering. Combine your message with a blog post and newsletter, the message is certainly out there.
Social networking provides a communication to your customers and followers that was previously unavailable. This close interaction can be used to ask what your customers want and learn from related industry groups. The more you interact with your followers on the social networking sites, the more you know what is good for business and can develop your online store accordingly.
There is a global audience just waiting to be tapped in to, can you really afford to ignore it? After all, it’s free, targeted, builds brand identity, loyal followers and it’s FREE. 

Author: Brian Altona
Copyright 2010

Social Networking – Building Your Own Fan Base

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