8 Steps to Starting a Business Relationship Using Social Media

We’ve stressed in our books (http://bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson) and in our training that social media is all about relationships, not porting old-media tactics (advertising, marketing, promotion) to this new medium. The goal online is to create relationships and Be a Person.

So how do you get started using social media to create a business relationship? Well one way is to follow our 8-step process, detailed in the following.

1) Find Targets

Using LinkedIn as an a example, if you’re not already connected with the person, or already have a list of people you want to connect with, you start with targeting. Identify other users using LinkedIn search (limit: 100 results) or Google search (use site:linkedin.com). Pay attention to the keywords you use to narrow your search. If you pay for a premium LinkedIn account, you can really hone in on a particular group, such as vice presidents of engineering for Fortune 1000 biotechnology companies with fewer than 10,000 employees.

2) Learn About Your Targets

Once you find potential targets, study their profiles. If you’re a degree away, you might ask for an introduction, but you need a really good reason. I often do not pass on LinkedIn referral requests because I don’t want to endorse shallow requests. If you do go the referral route, be sure to give the referrer(s) a good reason to take your request seriously and a good reason why the target may be receptive to you.

3) Join Your Target’s LinkedIn Groups

As an alternative to getting referred, find out the LinkedIn groups your target belongs to and consider joining them. Follow the group discussion and if your target posts, comment on the post. Repeat.

You’re looking for some commonality and a reason to engage in a dialog. You’re building a relationship, so look for opportunities to give information or otherwise provide value.

4) Ask to Connect

Ideally, you’ll always have some interaction with the target before asking to connect. At the very least, become active in the group by posting questions, resources, and demonstrating your expertise. By this I don’t mean crowing about how your business is the best thing since sliced bread. Keep all comments non-salesy.

If the target doesn’t post in the LinkedIn Group, you can send a connection request specifying group membership, but that’s a cold call. Be sure to describe the reasons why you want to connect (not “I want to sell you something”). Never send the default LI invite unless you really know the person well!

5) Learn More About Your Target

Once you’re connected, watch your LinkedIn update stream for activity from your contact. Comment or like as appropriate. Your goal is to appear in their update stream, and attract their attention. Let them know you’re there, thinking of them, and contribute something of value. Repeat.

6) Ask Questions and Offer Assistance

After an appropriate length of time doing the above, message the person and ask them a leading question: What are you working on? How does <recent event> affect your job/business/organization? People love to talk about themselves, so get them talking.

If appropriate, suggest resources or solutions to their problems. You’re getting to know one another, so spend sufficient time in this stage. If you’re selling something or yourself, do not bring that up at this stage! It’s OK to describe what you do, but wait until the contact asks if possible, and don’t make it the focus of your interaction.

7) Coffee Shop Your Target

Finally you’re ready to suggest having coffee. Give a good reason to meet, beyond getting to know one another better. That reason should not be so you can sell something. It should be focused on your contact – “I’ve got some ideas about the problem you’re having. Shall we meet for coffee to discuss?”

Now you’re in the real world and all the good real world networking techniques come into play. But still don’t start selling. The rule of thumb in social media is to give four times before asking, but at this stage, you still aren’t ready to ask.

8 ) Know When to Ask (or Not to Ask)

At some point you’ll know when it may be time to ask. But it actually is better if you wait until your contact suggests you may be able to help.

Even if you feel it’s time to ask, don’t give them the hard sell. Don’t you hate it when a friend, family member or acquaintance puts the touch on you for some multi-level marketing scheme? Isn’t that awkward?

You’ll find that, if you’ve been getting better acquainted, it may have become obvious to your contact that you may have something they could use, and you may be surprised that they come to you with an opportunity. That happened to one of our partners who made a sale to a major multinational corporation that had previously told him his company was too small to work for them.

After following this process, his contact spontaneously said, “There’s a project starting that you guys would be perfect for. I’ll have someone give you a call.”

As IRL, So Online

Just as IRL (In Real Life) you wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and ask them for a favor, don’t do it online. Your objective in social media should be to build relationships, not push your message out to thousands of strangers.

Just as in your own life you are probably much more likely to act on a friend’s suggestion to see a movie, buy a certain car, or dine at a particular restaurant, so it is online. People hate being sold, but they love referrals from friends. Establish a community of friends, and your business opportunities will multiply.

We’d love to hear what you think in the comment area below.

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