Shiny new thing or old-fashioned networking?

1009935_25003389You’re thinking that turning to the latest and hotest social media and online communications tools will increase sales and get your business moving again. Nothing wrong with that idea and lots of people will tell you that’s just the thing to do.

Heck, I’m one of those people. But simply setting up on Facebook or Linkedin or Twitter without a clear purpose in mind and a commitment of your valuable business time to follow through is not going to increase anything — except for your frustration with the folks who sold you on the whole social media idea in the first place.

The purpose and how much of a commitment, of course, are up to you. You know what you want to accomplish for your business or community group. But your purpose for using social media also has to include meeting people, getting to know them and building and keeping relationships with them. It’s business development and no different from attending a chamber of commerce event, or lunching with a customer, or any of the other ways you use to say hello and stay in touch.

What you do online should look and sound like what you already do in your other business development efforts, including:

• Sharing information about yourself and your interests.

• Talking about what you’re working on and what you need help with.

• Providing specifics about your business and services and what you can do.

• And, importantly, asking your contacts to share the same information about themselves.

One of the folks who really understands this is Jeff Zaret, vice president of sales for a company that sells merchant services. Yes, I had to ask what the heck are merchant services, too, but that conversation came after Jeff and I ran into each other at business meetings in several cities. He’s constantly networking and gets to know people by talking first about his love of all things Disney, or minor league baseball, or helping raise money to fight cancer at a Relay for Life.

Jeff’s a stand-up comic, too, which makes these conversations a lot livelier than you’d expect at a B2B event. He knows how to work a room after having been on the comedy club tour for years.

Lessons Jeff learned by talking with people at networking events he now applies to how he’s learning to use social media and online communications tools. Check out @jeffzaret to see what I mean about how Jeff is using Twitter. His purpose there is clear, and you can quickly get to know him by the information Jeff shares about what he’s interested in and what he’s working on.

He also knows that he won’t sell his company’s merchant services on the first social media contact any more than he will sell them on the initial contact at any of the business and community events on his calendar. But Jeff’s investing the time needed for any networking effort to build relationships necessary to get the chance to make the sale.

Social media do not work any other way.

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