I believe many B2B professionals struggle in their adoption of social media for professional use, because they see it as a marketing platform as opposed to a professional networking tool. Those who do see it purely as a marketing tool and use it as such, clog up a valuable business resource with spam. I have colleagues that are very active on Facebook for personal use, but can’t seem to get their heads around LinkedIn. CEOs and CMOs don’t have time for Twitter, let alone time to blog. Sales professionals are too busy chasing after prospects, so when they squeeze in the time for B2B social media, they make the mistake of using it for intrusive prospecting instead of professional networking. However, I think if these B2B professionals really understood the purpose and value of B2B social networking, then they would make more time for it and better use of it.
The is the second post in a series designed to help B2B professionals create better social strategies by thinking in terms of B2B social networking over B2B social media. This second installment explores the opportunity of building a stellar B2B professional network through social media and lays the foundation for the following more advanced topics to come.
- The B2B Company Social Netork
- Social Media for B2B Demand Generation
- Social Networking for B2B Public Relations
- Social Networking for B2B Sales Enablement
It is not another top ten list on how to tweet. So many poor efforts at B2B social networking result from trying to master how to do it without truly understanding what it is. Using social media to build your professional network is a very personal endeavor, and my hope is that this second post in the series will provide a few very personal “aha moments” that help clarify your professional social networking strategy.
Professional Social Networking Aha #1 | Just Be Helpful
Imagine for a moment the consummate professional networker before the Internet age. Perhaps the best networker you’ve ever met. You know the one I am talking about. He or she is probably an entrepreneur, salesperson, executive or maybe just the life of every conference. I still have colleagues like this, offline only networkers. Some have networks so strong they frankly don’t need the Internet. They are also a) rich, b) retired or c) about to retire. If you don’t fall into one of these three categories, then I highly recommend building your professional networking skills online as well as off.
Now can you recall what made that person great at B2B professional networking? A litany of personal characterstics probably comes to mind: extroverted, energetic, fun, interesting, powerful, charismatic, attentive, and even athletic or attractive. These are all great qualities to have for building your professional network, unfortunately some of them are genetic and others may simply not be you. But, there is one thing we can all be and it is the cornerstone of B2B professional networking: helpful, because all professional networking is based on reciprocity and that is simply human. Everyone can be helpful if they set their mind to it. Building your professional network online is simple; be helpful online. In fact, every rule that applies for successful offline networking applies online. It’s not like we stop being human when we go online. The purpose of social networks is to help us socialize as humans, more broadly, more frequently and more efficiently.
Professional Social Networking Aha #2 | Make it Personal
Now imagine your consummate offline networker and think about the relationship between that person’s professional life and personal life. The best, the very best, never stop working. Their business life is seamlessly integrated into their personal life. Their business connections are frequently their friends. They socialize for business. For them, professional networking IS socializing. Again, unfortunately, that doesn’t work for the vast majority of us. However, what it does mean is that whatever you do decide to do in the way of professional social networking, you must be inescapably yourself. B2B professionals don’t follow or like logos, they follow and like colleagues. You can’t be superficial. Reciprocity demands that you be trusted, and trust demands that you be authentic.
One of the great things about professional social networking is that you actually have the opportunity to compensate for whatever weaknesses you have offline, because you don’t have to get on a plane, go to a meeting, or be the master of small talk to do it. You can stay in your comfort zone. For example, if you are a regular Chaotic Flow reader, it should be completely obvious by now that I am no master of small talk (and by the way, thank you for reading and don’t hesitate to comment or contact me). With social media, you get to choose where, when and how your professional persona appears online. How cool is that?! When you go to an offline networking event, client meeting or job interview, how much control do you have over whom you meet, your first impressions, and the flow of conversation. Online, you have immense control over all these things, because you design your Twitter page, you choose who to follow, and you decide when and where to join the conversation.
Professional Social Networking Aha #3 | Choose Your Battles
If like most people, you are not willing or able to be the always-on professional networker with complete integration of business and personal life, social media can help you compensate and augment your professional networking. For busy B2B professionals who want to accelerate their networking, but also want a personal life, I say choose your battles wisely. Despite what the top ten lists say, you don’t have to be on every social network.
In fact, trying to be on too manage every social network is probably a really bad idea for most people. Most of us simply don’t have the time. When you spread yourself too thin, your professional social networking quickly becomes spotty and superficial, leading to poor results and poor motivation. What you should do is pick a few B2B social media outlets that fit your personality and your lifestyle. You are better off with a active Flickr site with pictures of your business travels and vacations, than you are with an abandoned blog or Twitter account. You might just be surprised at the number of professional colleagues you meet who have been where you’ve been and are happy to swap stories, because that leads to the next most important aspect of building your professional network online.
Professional Social Networking Aha #4 | Build Your Network Offline
Just as the consummate offline professional networker seamlessly blends business and personal life, the consummate online professional networker seamlessly blends online and off. There is just no substitute for face-to-face interaction for building trust and exploring opportunities to be helpful. When someone connects with, comments on, retweets, links, likes or messages you online, check that person out and see if it makes sense to set up a call or a meeting. Combining online professional networking with offline professional networking creates a feedback loop that accelerates the expansion of your network and increases the velocity and efficiency of your communications within your network. The end result is a bigger professional network than either offline or online alone can provide, and you develop stronger, more valuable relationships within your network.
For example, I can’t count the number of great professional relationships I’ve made through Chaotic Flow. Sometimes I run into a colleague who asks for advice on “how to blog and develop an online personal brand” or I get a stuffy note from a LinkedIn group moderator rejecting one of my posts as “self-promotion” in a vigilant effort to battle social spam, and I think to myself that they just don’t get it yet. Chaotic Flow is not about self-promotion. It’s about being helpful by sharing ideas that I (humbly) feel might interest my peers in order to meet them and develop professional relationships. I put some serious time and energy into it, so I don’t take kindly to it being misinterpreted as superficial self-promotion. Chaotic Flow is an professional social networking endeavor, and my greatest reward from it is always the new relationships I establish and extend offline.
Professional Social Networking Aha #5 | It’s One Network
In the end, there is no distinction between your online professional network and your offline professional network; they should both be composed of same set of colleagues that you have met or would like to meet. Professionals whom you can help and who can help you. You may have fifty-thousand followers on Twitter, but if they aren’t people you either know or want to know, then where is value in B2B? Perhaps you can “monetize their eyeballs,” but that would be B2C. Alternatively, if you only accept invitations on LinkedIn from people you have already met, then you may as well stick to a Rolodex.
Your success or failure at professional social networking is not measured by the quantity of your followers but by the quantity and quality of the referrals, references, and business opportunities you reap above and beyond what you could achieve through offline networking alone. This particular point will come up again and again in the coming posts in this series, because when we extend the concept of B2B social networking from building your professional network to building your company’s network, it will again be one network. B2B social media marketing should strive to connect online the same network of prospects, customers, experts, invluencers, consultants, investors, executives, and employees that drive referrals, references and revenue offline.
Professional Social Networking Aha #6 | No Where to Hide
There is one important difference between networking online versus networking offline: you are out in the open, all the time. When you network offline, the visibility of your actions and comments are limited to those colleagues in your vicinity. When you network online, your actions and comments are often visible to the whole world. Moreover, there are search engines, share buttons and rss feeds whose only purpose is to spread your actions and comments all over the Internet. And, those links can last a long time
This is the double-edged sword of professional social networking. On the one hand, the publicity helps you expand your network. On the other hand, you have nowhere to hide. So, be careful what you say and be careful who your friends are, but not so careful that you miss out on important opportunities. Good luck and good networking!