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Beginner’s Guide to Social Networking

Beginner’s Guide to Social Networking

The growth of social media, as evidenced by Twitter, Facebook and others, over the last few years has increased the number of individuals and clubs who prefer to communicate using these networks, often to the detriment of ‘traditional’ methods like phone calls and email.

Some clubs are now using social media networks to communicate with existing members, encourage new members and to promote their regalia, services, meetings, events and website to like-minded people.

However, many clubs still struggle to recognise why they should participate online, what relevance social networks have to them and worry about the negative aspects of social networks they read in the newspapers. With the high level of interaction elsewhere, there is a strong possibility that people who don’t grasp the power of social networks soon will be left behind.

Here are ten simple things to think about before you join a social network, which will help you use them effectively, productively and securely.

1. Why do you want to join a social network?

The first thing to look at before joining any social network is why you want to be there in the first place. What do you want to achieve and how will that particular network help you meet those objectives?

I use different social networks for different reasons. For example, Twitter is primarily to engage regularly with my network and help people in my wider network understand more about what I do and who I do it for. It also helps people find out more about me before connecting, and see easily what other people say about me.

Understanding your objectives helps you to cut through the baffling range of functionality on offer and focus on what is important, and relevant, to you.

2. To what do you need to commit to get results?

Just joining a social network won’t be enough, you need to be willing to participate, engage and be there for others. Be proactive, don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen.

How much time do you need to spend online? You might be surprised how little time you actually need to spend on social networking sites, particularly if your objectives are clear. It is far more effective to target your activity and engage in a focused way than spend too much time online, making a lot of noise but very little progress. If you spend too much time online people in your network will start wondering why you have so much time on your hands!

You do need to have a reasonable level of involvement however. Just putting up a profile and automatically sending content to all social networks will not be effective. Success on social networks is about the quality of your participation, not just presence.

3. Commit to being social

This is possibly the number one rule of social networking. It’s too easy to see sites like Facebook and Twitter as an opportunity to tell everyone what they can buy from you. But just like any networking event, most people haven’t logged in to buy. They want to engage in conversation and discussion, they want support and ideas, and they want to promote their own business or career.

Use social media wisely by developing relationships with people in your network, meeting new people and keeping in touch with old friends and colleagues. Show an interest in what they are doing, support them when they ask and share what they do with the rest of your network. They will then want to do the same for you.

If you engage effectively and show a constant interest in others, your online connections will be receptive when you do have something to share with them about your club or your needs. And they’ll be far more likely to respond and support you.

4. Protect your privacy

Fuelled, no doubt, by scaremongering in the mainstream media, many people shy away from social networks because of fears over their privacy. Not that such fears are unfounded. I’ve heard of websites that feature Facebook users who have publicised both their address and their absence from home, for example.

For a club, however, many of these fears can be allayed with a certain amount of common sense. Don’t share any sensitive information on such sites. Check the privacy settings on each network you belong to and restrict who can see certain information. And let your friends and colleagues know where your boundaries are, asking them not to share anything that would be embarrassing or sensitive in any other way.

5. What do you want your profile to say about you?

Spend some time getting your profile right. Don’t just write the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, put yourself in other people’s shoes. Knowing your objectives from membership, what do you need them to read to engage with them and for them to be in a position to help you?

Most people like to read profiles written in the first person, where they feel they are interactive with a human being, not a cold biography. And include a warm, yet professional, photograph, to engage people further.

Also include links to which people can go to find out more about your club, such as your website, blog and other social media profiles.

6. To whom do you want to connect?

As you start using a social network, have a strategy for connecting with people. This should fit with your goals for the network. For example, if you are looking to raise your profile you might have a more open connection strategy than if you are looking for referrals from your existing network.

Be clear on whether you want to accept connection requests from people you have never met before and, if you do, how you will develop those connections into real contacts. Is there more value for you if you grow a wide network or use the site to develop stronger relationships with existing contacts? Are you comfortable mixing the two on the same platform?

The important thing is for you to have a clear strategy in your mind and communicate it effectively when you ask people to connect and when you receive connection requests from people you don’t know.

7. What content is appropriate to your goals?

As you may have gathered by now, simply joining a social network and posting whenever the mood takes you won’t necessarily bring you the best results. The focus you have developed by setting clear objectives, understanding how each network will deliver those objectives and working to a connection strategy should guide the content you post and the interactions you engage in.

What message are you sending to others with your online conversations and blogs and how congruent are they with the image you want to portray? If you are looking to demonstrate expertise, make sure you comment on other people’s relevant posts, add value to any discussion in that area and start new threads that engage people with a similar interest.

You should also be comfortable with how much of the ‘real you’ you share online. I believe your online personality should be a strong reflection of your natural personality and by extension, that of the club. Remember, however, that online forums lack the subtleties of personal relationships and face to face conversations and you should always maintain a strong degree of professionalism.

8. Manage your presence to fit the network

With the surge of new social networking sites, the temptation can be strong to simply accept invitations, paste your standard profile into each one and then connect with all of the same people. If you have followed Step One and understood which social network meets which objectives, it should be easier to resist this temptation.

After all, why connect with the same people and provide them with the same content in different places? I can’t think of a more ineffective way of spending your time.

Tailor your profile, your activity and your connections to your objectives from each network. And don’t be tempted to join those to which you can’t commit.

9. Build relationships offline

However involved with social networking you become, don’t lose sight of the importance of meeting people in person. Online networks should supplement your existing relationships, not take their place. Ultimately you get to develop trust and rapport when you see the whites of people’s eyes.

This means maintaining existing levels of personal interaction with existing contacts, while finding the time to meet in person those people you have a strong rapport with online. The growth of ‘Tweetups’, networking events for groups of people who have met on Twitter, illustrates the importance of this face to face contact. For most clubs, this will occur at shows and club meetings.

Naturally, this isn’t always possible, particularly with overseas connections. But make the effort where you can.

10. Constantly revisit your objectives

You started out your social networking journey by setting objectives from each network you joined. Of course, those objectives are only valuable if you constantly revisit them, measure how successful you are and refresh them where necessary.

Ask yourself whether you are either meeting your goals or on course to do so. Is your activity driving the right returns? Are there potential benefits you have previously missed?

If you can maintain your focus and engage in the right way, there is no reason why social networks shouldn’t prove to be a tremendous resource for your club, give you a greater reach, access to new contacts and ideas and help the club grow far more quickly than it could have done without signing up and logging in.

Labelled ‘Mr Network’ by The Sun, Andy Lopata was called one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists by the Financial Times.

Andy is the author of three books on networking, as well as a blogger for The Huffington Post and NatWest Business Sense.

Andy speaks internationally and has worked with companies from one-man bands to organisations such as Deloitte, Merrill Lynch and Mastercard to help them realise the full potential from their networking.

He is also a Fellow and former vice-president of the Professional Speaking Association.

Visit Andy Lopata’s website to view the original version of this article which was previously published in The National Networker.

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