Making it Count

How to use social networking to advance your business

Handshake networking always will exist. Digital networking, though, offers staffing firms an expanded “room” in which to connect with prospects and clients.
“Leveraging social networks is definitely something people have to keep up with, learn about and move forward with because it’s where everything is going,” says Janice Cutler, owner of a small business in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Cutler uses social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and writes a blog to enhance business and communicate with customers at North Raleigh Florist. “You can use social networks so that people can find you and see what you do but also to get educational information out there to teach them about things.”

While Cutler operates a retail business, her advice works well for business-to-business marketing too. Businesses can author Twitter or Facebook posts to share their insight and demonstrate their expertise. For example, a staffing firm could offer information on how to hire the right person or tips for great customer service. There is one caveat, Cutler says. Craft the content so it’s less sales pitch and more how-to information. It’s the difference between creating a social network where people return and a one-time advertising promotion.

“People are trying to figure out who to use for their services and products, and if they read your posts and see you know what you’re talking about, they’ll come to you for those services,” Cutler says. “We’ve seen a huge response to this tactic. People are engaging us, asking us questions and interacting with our other customers.”

Build for future
Networking doesn’t bring an instant payoff. The focus should be to build mutually beneficial relationships, says Maribeth Kuzmeski, founder of Red Zone Marketing, which consults on strategic marketing and business growth for Fortune 500 companies. Look for contacts everywhere—accept invitations to “friend” someone on Facebook or link to on LinkedIn and extend invitations yourself. Even if you never do business with a contact, he or she may connect you to people you can work with down the road.

To foster these relationships, Kuzmeski recommends taking time to build your online credibility. For example, regularly updating a helpful blog with tips and information on human resource topics or crafting tweets pointing your followers to interesting staffing news stories can help you build a very respectable online reputation.

Don’t stop at posting on your own pages. Kuzmeski says you can further develop your networks by commenting on websites, blog posts and other platforms where your potential clients are originating content or where experts in the industry are talking. By doing so, you can add to their dialogue and meet new contacts.

You can work your social networking on a grassroots level, designating yourself or someone at your agency as the networking guru. If you want to expand that networking commitment but don’t have the staff or time, professional social marketing services can provide that help.

Get in touch
If you’re looking to connect with a prospect you haven’t met or don’t know well, it’s best to show interest in what he or she cares about, says Ada Chen Rekhi, director of product management at Mochi Media.

“If the person you’re trying to connect with is writing a blog or tweet, participate in the conversation with them on the topic,” she says. “Showing interest and responding thoughtfully helps set the foundation for further conversations down the line.”

Chen Rekhi also recommends finding mutual connections with the prospect and having those connections introduce you. Visit LinkedIn or Facebook, search for the prospect’s name and you may find you’re just one or two people away from the prospect.

Go beyond the virtual world. Amanda Foor, a public relations professional, says use your social networks to organize your contacts online but add a different medium to connect further. She looks through her online social networking contacts every few weeks and jots down those she hasn’t spoken to in awhile. Then she writes a hello or shares a joke on a note card and mails it to the person.

“These days, handwritten notes are even more important than they have been in the past,” Foor says. “People love getting mail that’s sincere and not asking for some type of payment. Additionally, it allows me to stay top-of-mind for the recipient, especially since most notes stay on someone’s desk for a long period of time, which is prime real estate.”