As consumers continue to distance themselves from traditional advertising mediums and marketers scramble to find new ways to drive growth, it becomes essential to build meaningful online relationships with groups of people who can help to spread the good word of our brand. One of my favorite parts of working in marketing is that I am reminded daily what a small world it really is, and how many great people I'm lucky to work alongside. Hopefully, you feel the same way about your industry.
What many business influences don't realize is that networking online can be a great tool for not only building their personal brand, but also directly promoting their business. Establishing positive connections can lead to the sharing of our content, the spreading of our message, and the very real growth of our bottom line. Seems pretty valuable, right?
Below are a few basic considerations to help foster relationship building, and consequent business development.
On your own website:
Your company's site should be the first place you look when exploring how to improve your online network. The structure of the site and type of content shared will dictate how you are perceived and whether or not like-minded individuals deem you to be worthy of getting to know.
1. Develop a share-friendly environment
A great way to drive traffic to your site and build credibility in your industry is to share the valuable resources and articles others are creating, usually in your blog. This may seem counterproductive ("Why would I promote anyone other than myself on my own website?") but is actually invaluable for two concrete reasons.
First, education is a foundational pillar of Inbound marketing. You don't have time to create content which educates your buyers on every single topic relevant to them, but the collective population of the internet certainly does. Sharing external resources frames your business as helpful and informative for prospective buyers, which we know is critical.
Secondly, sharing people's content is a pretty straight-forward way to inspire them to share your own. If someone mentioned you in a blog post with a link to your site, wouldn't it get your attention? Of course it would, and it would also plant the seed of an idea in your brain to return the favor down the road.
Don't mistake this as a "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationship, but rather as the opportunity to strengthen your own content while simultaneously positioning your business as helpful and relevant in your industry. When others start sharing your resources, it'll be an added perk.
2. Create content worth spreading
When users (be they customers or prospective professional acquaintances) visit your website, they will expect to be offered something of value. As such, you'll need to create some sort of content which demonstrates your expertise or offering. This could be an eBook, a checklist, an active blog, or anything else of value.
The point is to make sure those visitors have a reason to stick around. If you're hoping to build relationships which encourage others to share your content, they have to have something to share!
You'll also be making use of this later on, when we discuss building relationships on outside platforms.
3. Make connecting easy
The value of social buttons on branded websites is evidenced by the fact that just about every major brand has them. I'm not one for a follow-the-herd mentality, but the masses have this one right. Including social badges and "Follow us" calls to action is imperative in building bridges not only between yourself and your customers, but also to relevant individuals interested in connecting to your business.
Never make someone hunt down your Twitter handle, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, or YouTube channel (or whatever network you may use). Structuring the decision process and making connecting a no-brainer is imperative for customers and potential co-branders alike.
In outside communities:
With a strong website which provides ease of connecting and gives real value, you're ready to move to external groups and sites to start "meeting" those meaningful individuals! Ensure you're assimilating and contributing appropriately with the following guidelines.
1. Find the right community
Determining where relevant individuals spend their time is a critical step in building online relationships which can contribute real value to your business and brand. LinkedIn grants us access to the public resumes and backgrounds of over 225 million professionals, which presents is a clear opportunity to get in contact. Joining groups relevant to your business and offering is a critical step to finding new contacts on the world's largest professional networking site.
LinkedIn is a great first place to look, but it's probably not the only destination housing discussions around your industry. Consider Facebook (really!), Twitter, and even MeetUp when seeking relevant communities.
To find additional opportunities, consider conducting keyword searches to uncover groups, websites, blogs, and individuals who are passionate about what you do. Google Alerts are an incredibly easy way to monitor when a subject is mentioned online (we're talking one-step easy).
Follow those blogs, join those groups, and bookmark those websites – because they're about to become some of your most valuable resources.
This one is pretty obvious, but is often overlooked. Once you've found the relevant places to enter the digital conversation and decided what you'd like to share, getting the benefits of relationship building requires you to get involved!
Many people make the mistake of joining communities which could pose great value to their business and fail to contribute. Engaging in this type of passive behavior will lead you to gain nothing through membership.
Any time you join a new discussion, follow a new blog, or make a new connection, introduce yourself and politely state why you're there. Getting your face out there is critical in being remembered and perceived as a relevant member of the community. This should not be taken as an opportunity to plug your business, instead you should focus on identifying yourself as an active and interested contributor.
3. Be community-focused
The 50/50 rule is much talked about in Inbound promotion, and for good reason. The most successful Inbound Marketers have found that communities grow exponentially when every time an individual shares their own content on social media or in groups, they share someone else's later on.
It's a tricky one for many to embrace, but mastering the art of friendly sharing is pivotal to your relationship building success. Just as you share content from other sources on your website, your contributions to groups and communities should frequently provide links to content created by someone other than yourself (or your business).
Encouraging discussion around other professional's or businesses pieces on social media or online forums is a fantastic way to drive visibility for your own business as well. Remember: this strategy positions you as a friendly member of the community, and in turn motivates users to share your content in return.
Are you leveraging to opportunities allotted through online communities and relationship building? Has friendly sharing helped you grow your own presence and traffic? I'd love to hear your comments below and further discuss strategies which could be employed to deepen connections.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tobanblack/3773116901/sizes/m/in/photostream/