Online communities are growing daily. As more and more people turn to Social Media to build relationships, grow their businesses and develop new ideas, groups (on Facebook) and communities (on Google+) are becoming more and more prevalent. Unfortunately, there is no rule book (aside from, in many cases, common sense) to follow when trying to determine how best to connect with people in your selected communities. It’s still important that certain basic guidelines are followed, if you intend to build a network that will help you grow your business. Afterall, if you are truly building relationships, your reputation is on (the) line. Here are 7 basic guidelines for navigating online groups that will help you establish genuine relationships with people in your network.
- Use your real name. Especially when you are connecting with professionals you will actually see in your local environment, it’s important that you are transparent about who you are and what you do. Avoid the awkward conversations when you run into someone you only have met online when they call you by your online persona and your name is actually quite different. Being yourself establishes credibility and legitimizes the relationship you are establishing. Relationships that are built solely online are tenuous. People are skeptical. Don’t make it more difficult to establish trust by selecting a pen name that makes people wonder whether you are someone they can trust.
- Fill out your profile with your professional details. When you are communicating with people in a Facebook group, people have the opportunity to visit your public profile to learn more about you. When they visit, it’s recommended that they are able to see your position at the company you currently work (linked to your company’s official Business Page so they can access accurate contact information, should they want to call); your current location and a professional looking photo of you. Profile photos do not need to be professional head shots, but they should clearly show a photo of you that represents you in a positive way.
- Create conversation. One of the most common mistakes I see people make is they don’t make any effort to show they care about anyone else. They simply advertise their business, tell people to come buy from them, or talk about how awesome they are, or how their company is the best in the industry. The bottom line is that people in a social network want to be treated like they do in a real life setting. At a dinner function, the best way to see people making a bee-line for the punch bowl is to blast the conversation with promotional or self-promotional conversations. At some point, when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to promote, sell or advertise. It’s simply something that must wait until the audience has a level of comfort, and trust with you. Conversations are already in place, so the best thing to do is find something you can talk about and get involved in those conversations.
- Make an introduction when invited to do so, or when you first enter the group. Typically, there are guidelines for groups, and if there is a moderator, or group facilitator, they will encourage you to make an introduction. This is your chance to tell everyone in the group (once) about yourself. Make sure you include links to your website or other social links to allow the audience to learn more about your business. Once you have made your introduction, get involved in the conversation, and support the existing members of the group. People will appreciate you, and become curious about you, and certainly tell them about your services when someone asks questions that are related to what you do!
- Don’t Cross-Post From One Group to Another. Most of the time, especially in local communities, members are in several groups together. If you are not someone who has invested any time or effort in what others are saying, and you post the same message in all of the groups in which you are a member, you’re likely to create a reputation that will be hard to change later. Each group offers something different, and the audiences vary, if only slightly. Show that you are catering your message specifically for that particular audience, or you’ll lose their interest very quickly.
- Invest your time and effort into one group of a particular type. There are always multiple options for engagement, and sometimes there are similar groups with similar functions. Some groups might suit your personality and your business better than others. Select one group and commit to that group for an established period of time. Focus on authentic engagement and interactions and build real relationships with the members. Don’t spread yourself too thin, or dilute your message by trying to be everywhere. If you have built solid relationships, you will garner recurring rewards from the investment you have made in the people you get to know. If, after your previously determined time, you feel you are not seeing a return on your investment in the group, or its members, move on. Sometimes you might learn quickly that the group is not for you. Don’t spend too much time forcing yourself into a group that doesn’t seem to notice your efforts. Realize, however, that it does take time to establish trust, and groups that have been around awhile will recognize someone who is just there to take advantage of them, rather than invest in them.
- Be generous with information. This is the key to successfully growing your business in this type of environment. Find out what people in the group need, whether they ask for it, or if by the conversations, you can determine that they need help and they don’t know it. Share content from known resources, and ask questions. Share content from your own website or blog, and ask the audience for feedback. Share a story about a business experience that helped you. Share community events, locally or nationally that would be interesting to the particular audience. If you are not given feedback in the way of comments, ask yourself what you can do better next time to make your post more inviting. Pay attention to the information that is interesting to the audience and then find your own unique way of bringing similar information to the conversation.
Do you have any ideas or suggestions that maybe I have missed? Any examples, or stories that you can share with us? Please add your comments, we’d love to know about any success you have found navigating in the world of online communities.