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ross | Itomic Web Design Perth & Melbourne August 4, 2010

Building an Online Social Network

By Ross Gerring

A well designed and executed website is an essential piece of the puzzle for any business no doubt, but it is just that, a piece. What you need is to turn these potential clients into actual clients and then convert clients into advocates for your business. It doesn’t matter if your business has 2000 Facebook friends or 300 twitter followers, how do you get them to commit? This article will explore another piece of the puzzle, how do you build and maintain an online social network? 

Be genuinely helpful

I am of the belief that if I cannot help a potential client with a web design or development solution then I should do my best to point them in the direction of someone who can. If I cannot recommend someone who could assist, I educate them on the pitfalls of choosing a website provider and the questions they should ask to help them level the playing field.

The message is simple, just because someone doesn’t purchase something from you, does not make them or their enquiry a waste of your time or effort. They may not become a client, but they could become an advocate. The more helpful you were, the more vocal they will be. And who knows, one day you may require their services. 

Participate, don’t just exist

Whether online or off, the organisation that gets the most out of a network is the organisation who is actively putting into said social network. If you are posting news items on your website, firstly you should ensure that you are consistent with your news items. One article every six months does not cut it. With consistency taken into account, offer to your potential network more than just the one line announcement of your “Fabulous spring sale” or  “Joe Bloggs joins the team”, tell your readers what is involved with your spring sale or who Joe Bloggs is, what makes him tick and why he is a good addition to the team.

The same applies to leveraging off the interest and excitement surrounding linkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. If your approach is to “build it and they will come” then I am very sorry, it just won’t happen. This is not Field of Dreams and you are no Kevin Costner. You must participate, share and not shout your message and above all maintain your participation. 

Love is all around you, so let it show

I have already mentioned participation as a key factor. How you participate is also very important. Do not jump onto Twitter, follow everyone you can and spam them with your products catalogue. The last thing you should do is create a Facebook business page and tell all your friends and family to “follow you” only to inundate them with witty one liners with a call to action of “Contact us today to find out more”.

Share the love. Make all your interactions on your chosen social network medium about your followers (who again I stress can become clients or advocates at any time). Be helpful, collaborate and show them that you are there not to sell to them, but to interact with them first and foremost. 

Come on, don’t be selfish 

Don’t make all your social network interactions about what you have done, what you are doing or what you are offering. Turn to your network and share in their interactions on occasions.

If a member of your network has just landed a big deal, got married, expanded their business or is simply going along nicely, share their news and talk about them. Even if all you do is congratulate them on their achievements, it shows that you care and that you realise you exist not just through your own hard work, but through the existence of happy clients and advocates. 

Give much more than you expect to receive

Before you should expect to get anything in return from the social network you have begun to cultivate, ensure you have given more in return.  Every time someone does you a good turn, do them one in return even if it is just an email thanking them.

Do not be greedy and never take more than you put in. Remember, building this network will take some time and effort and the last thing you want to be doing is undermining said effort by soliciting business at every conceivable opportunity.

Be helpful, give more than you receive and where possible simply pay it forward with no end goal in mind. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Strengthen the emotional connection with your brand by building relationships

There is a key difference, and an obvious one at that, between being connected to a social network versus participating in one.  They are not one and the same and to approach them as such would be fool hardy at best.

Invest time and effort on cultivating a social network and you will see returns. Sign up to Facebook, Tweet on twitter or simply post relevant articles on your website often.

Above all remember, like most things in life, you really only get back what you put in.