As a business community, we seem to be putting a lot of stock into our online social media presence. We want to make sure we are seen and heard from. We want clients to know who we are and what we stand for. We want them to know we are good, trustworthy, fun and smart people with whom they should want to do business.
I have had an increasing number of clients in recent weeks, visiting the Small Business Centre to discuss the first steps for getting their business online; many consider themselves latecomers to the social media game. In our first discussion, I often compare online interactions with the ones small business owners are likely familiar with.
I explain that if they were to go to a networking event or party, and talk about nothing but themselves while pushing their product from person to person, people probably wouldn’t listen to them for long. Most people would say that a good “in real life” social interaction involves a balance between talking about themselves (people are interested in who you are and what you do), talking about the other person (you need to give a little attention to get a little attention) and some discussion about other neutral topics and current events. When you are on Twitter, if you are just blasting out updates about your product and desire to make a sale, people likely won’t give you their attention for long. Give and take communication is essential online just as it is offline.
This comparison to the real world has helped to remind me how important in- person interactions are. When I look through my social media connections, I notice that a strong majority of my contacts are people I have met at least once “in real life”. Sometimes the connections are made by connecting on LinkedIn or Twitter at or immediately after an event. Other times connections are made online first and followed by an event where I would run into a familiar face (or username). These genuine contacts, some of which turn into friends, are the ones that lead to natural referrals and possibly the eventual growth of your business.
My challenge to you for the rest of the summer is to find an opportunity to connect with some of your online business contacts in person. Opportunities can be formal and structured or casual and simple. For example, I have had some success with a small group of young entrepreneurs in a previous summer who decided that they would tweet out the name of a patio to meet at every Friday immediately after work. It was an open invitation, if 10 people showed up, they’d have a great networking event, if only two arrived, they would have a conversation at a table for two. While trying new in-person interactions, remember that social is the key. Sometimes selling is a task for the future, for a more qualified buyer, or for the contact that your new friend referred to you. Just getting to know others in your business community is a strong step on the path to success in your business.