June 7, 2011

Building a Better, not Bigger, Social Media Network

When it comes to social media networks, a bigger network clearly is better, but only if bigger also means a bigger selection of relevant, targeted, high-quality contacts.

Amassing thousands of random followers with automatic “follow back” gimmicks on Twitter may give you bragging rights at the water cooler, but it will do little or nothing to help you grow your business. And adding 500 friends or fans on Facebook overnight may feel like progress, but if you haven’t mastered the Facebook algorithm of update quality and engagement, your content may not even appear on their feeds.

So what are the best ways to grow quality social media networks, so that the contacts and relationships you create truly benefit you and your business and deliver real value?

There are no shortcuts to creating real engagement and real relationships; as in the “real world,” they need to be nourished to grow and produce results. There are tools, however, that can streamline the process of finding the right people for you or your business to connect with. Here are several steps you can take to help you grow your social media contacts efficiently and organically, through targeted research and engagement:

STEP ONE: Be Brave
Your most valuable contacts are the ones you already have, so leverage them. “Find Friends” on Facebook and Twitter and “See Who You Already Know” on LinkedIn are functions that allow the sites to access your Gmail, Aol, Yahoo!, or Hotmail email address books and identify which of your contacts already have profiles. To get started, each of the services asks you to enter your email address and your password. Be brave and let them access your email. It’s not a “bulk follow.” You can pick and choose, and it’s a great way to jump-start your community.

Don’t have an email account with one of those popular providers? Create one, import your contacts from your business accounts, and let LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook access it.

STEP TWO: Be Clear
Know why you are networking. Identify your goals, whether they are personal or for your business, and prioritize them. If you identify your top priority as building brand awareness, for instance, you will start creating a different community than you would to enhance “customer retention.” Prioritizing your marketing goals will help you prioritize whom to reach out to as you build your social media base.

STEP THREE: Be Curious
Social media platforms are great opportunities for making connections in a highly targeted way. The best way to start is with Twitter, where it is fine to follow and reach out to “strangers.” Once you’ve made a good contact on Twitter, it’s an easy next step to move the connection to LinkedIn or Facebook, and then, hopefully, into a solid face-to-face connection as well.

Here are some great tools to help you discover interesting people and communities:

1) Twitter Lists: Twitter users have already done a lot of research for you by creating lists of the people they enjoy following. Find a thought leader in your field and check out the Twitter Lists they’ve created or the lists that include them to find interesting new people to follow and connect with. Listorious.com is a great site that aggregates Twitter lists and makes it easy to search for topics – and users – that interest you. Also, Mashable.com’s Twitter Lists organize recommended users into lists based on field or interests (such as marketing, economics, wine, etc.)

2) Twitter Search: Search.twitter.com (advanced Twitter Search) is still one of the best tools around for identifying targeted users to follow with keyword and location searches. Because of the location function (you can even search by zip code) it’s a great tool for local businesses to build relationships. Tweepsearch.com, Twellow.com, localtweeps.com, govtwit.com, and wefollow.com are also great tools that help you drill down and identify interesting new users.

3) Twitter Recommendations: Twitter now recommends users that you may be interested in following. “Who to Follow,” which appears on your own Twitter page, gives recommendations based on who you are already following (so, the more specific your niche, the better the suggestions.) “Similar to…” which appears on Twitter users’ profile pages finds users that Twitter considers similar. Click through for interesting new discoveries. And when you do follow new contacts, don’t expect them to follow back automatically: reach out by responding to one of their Tweets, by Retweeting a Tweet or a link to their blog, or by engaging in the comments section of their blog.

4) Facebook and LinkedIn Threads: Join interesting, relevant conversations in LinkedIn Groups or Facebook Pages or Groups and engage with other contributors. Once a connection has been made, “friend” them on Facebook, or “link to” them on LinkedIn. And, of course, follow them on Twitter.

5) Blog Threads: Read blogs that are relevant to your business and post responses with your thoughts, including a URL to your Twitter account. See who else is making interesting comments, engage with them, then make a connection on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

STEP FOUR: Be Generous
The key to social media success is bringing value to the conversation. Engage by sharing information and ideas that are valuable to your target community and positioning yourself as a resource. Use Twitter Search to find questions you can answer, problems you can solve, and relevant content you can share. And retweet and share other users’ content that is relevant to your community.

So work on growing your networks, but work efficiently by focusing on targeted connections that truly matter. Use tools to grow your networks with new contacts, new connections, and new friends who can help grow your business as well.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

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