Do you struggle with on-line networking?

Having a trusted on-line network is a huge advantage in business, and in life.

When you build a great network, not only do you have an immediate, trusted source of information and advice, you also have an army of people who like and respect you and are willing to help with word of mouth marketing – one of the most valuable marketing techniques that exists and one that can’t be bought. It is truly priceless.

A side effect of having a great network is that you become a person of influence. You are asked to recommend people, products and services and your opinion carries weight.

Here are some tips about how to build such a great resource.

This is a compilation of the live Ask the Expert hour.

Starting a relationship 

Q. What do you think the main challenges of networking on-line, for example, is it harder to build rapport with people (or conversely does it encourage people to trust others too quickly and lead to potential problems?)

Q. How do you start that on line relationship off? People say it’s just like meeting someone in person. It doesn’t feel like that to me!

Ann Hawkins I’ll take these both together as they’re similar…

Starting an on-line relationship is done the same way as a face to face one.

First impressions are just as important on-line as in person. A great photo and great introduction all help people to connect.

Then you look at what you have in common. Think of when you meet someone for coffee – you spend the first few minutes building rapport. It’s the same on-line but much faster and more honest. You can just click on the other person’s on-line posts and you’ll immediately see their character, personality and interests. Talk about the things you have in common, ask them questions (everybody likes talking about themselves).

Q. Some people see the screen as a barrier but it doesn’t have to be, right?

Ann Hawkins That’s true. People often reveal more about themselves on-line than they would face to face. You can spot people with a sense of humour, pedants, bores and much more just by reading their posts. The best part is, if you don’t like what you see you can just click away, unfollow, mute or ignore them – much easier than in real life!

Q.  Social proof is really powerful. You have instant access to check anybody out through their social proof, any con-artists, scammers etc are usually pretty easy to spot.

Q. For me it’s about making friends which means being open and honest and, I find being me is the easiest least stressful option.

Ann Hawkins I’ve been friends with people on-line for seven or eight years without ever having met them and there is a huge amount of trust and genuine liking between us. As soon as you get to the stage where you’ve established real liking and trust, you get access to their wider network and as long as you are useful, interesting and show up regularly you’ll soon start to build a great network.

Show up regularly – in person

Q.  I never really see how you can outsource relationship-making.

Ann Hawkins That’s exactly it! Would you send an automated recording or yourself to a face to face networking meeting? No way!

You need to show up in person and be useful to your network on a regular basis. That means sharing their posts and tweets, making referrals, recommendations and introductions in a timely way. And answering when you’re tagged!

If you’re in a group where people have discussions and ask for help, it’s a great opportunity to show your expertise or tag someone you know who can help.  You should never try to take the conversation away from the group into a personal message or a sales pitch.

I’d recommend being present in person at least once a day. When you build a great on-line network it makes any marketing you want to do a lot easier. When people care about who you are and what you do they naturally want to help you. That’s priceless!

If you only show up when you’ve got something to promote or sell, no-one will connect with you and they certainly won’t give you access to their wider network.

On-line helps face-to-face networking

Q. I am quite an introvert and the thought of attending a network event can often give me sleepless nights. Do you have any tips on how to control nerves and not look quite so tense at these type of events?

Ann Hawkins This is really where on-line networking can help the face to face experience. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve designed Drive the way it is.

Always check the attendance list. If you can see who is going to be in the room before you get there it helps a lot.  I also like to connect with people on-line before meeting them in person – it makes the whole thing a lot easier when there is something more substantial than small talk to start a conversation.

Q.   I always try to set aside time to do pre-meeting social connections. It means that you have a more productive experience when you meet face to face.  This makes a HUGE difference.

Q. What information do you look for?

A. It depends on the event, what I’m hoping to achieve from meeting the person, whether they are a supplier, potential client, source of knowledge and insight. There are loads of reasons, sometimes it’s just because they’re interesting people and I’d like to learn/know more about a subject. Keeping an open mind is critical, just because someone is the CEO of a business doesn’t mean that they will hold a great conversation, it’s more about finding common ground, interest etc and expanding on those, not over thinking it and assuming by ‘speaking’ with someone that you’ll get business.

Q. That makes me want to review my online profiles to see how I come across.

Ann Hawkins It works the other way round too: whenever you meet someone interesting face to face, connect on-line after the event and stay in touch in between meetings. It makes the relationship much stronger and the opportunities for wider networking are much greater.

Personal or business profile?

Q.  On twitter, is it a good idea to have a separate personal handle for rants and frivolity, or is it ok to do that from your business account? Or does that depend on the type of business you run? I’ve recently stopped sharing and commenting on a lot of quite controversial stuff but really miss it.

Ann Hawkins How many real relationships do you have with a brand or a business account on Twitter (or anywhere)? Most people want to talk to people so the more you can be yourself the stronger the network you’ll build. You may alienate a few potential clients but they’re unlikely to do business with you for long if they don’t share your values.

Q. I used to have a work handle but binned it because I decided it was easier to be me, people know me, and if they don’t like me, I’m OK with that. Also only tweeting as me prevents, most, alcohol related tweets and it gives people more chance to snout around my personal life and get to know me better.

Q. I struggle with this one. I am the person you will do business with, so I see the benefits of using my personal profile. But doesn’t a business account help with people who are looking for a business, before they know me? For example, if I want updates from Dropbox, I follow their twitter account, not the account of their CTO or CEO.

Q. I think it also depends on how different your interests are. E.g. I was just talking to a friend whose interests and profession all fall broadly into the same category, so one account would work well. I’m into two different things that don’t really overlap much (art/craft and creating online courses, well, I can see an overlap but that’s just me…) so I’ve separated them out a bit.

Ann Hawkins If you are your business and it’s you delivering a service, most people will relate to you rather than a business account. However, if you have a product there is more of a distinction but most people will still like to know you as a person.  Anonymous doesn’t work. I think the problem is that people confuse on-line networking with social media marketing. They’re two very different things.

A real network isn’t just about business, it’s about you as a person. The reason it can be incredibly useful when you have something to promote is because your trusted network will help you for no other reason than that they can. Word of mouth marketing by people who like and respect you is the most powerful marketing in the world.

Ann Hawkins is the M.D. of Drive the Network, a business mentor, author of New Business: Next Steps and has been networking and blogging on-line since 2005. If you have any questions about building a great on-line network ask them in the comments below or contact Ann at
Twitter @AnnHawkins
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