This article first appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of NAHB's Building Women.
As the 21st century enters its tweens, no one is surprised that business networking has gone hormonal. People are in touch 24/7. Your best friends, your college boyfriend (who is now quite embarrassing), the high school nerd (who is now quite wealthy) and even random people who have “friended” you may now converse with you in the same forum as your business contacts.
And they all want to know what you’re doing now. Not in the old-fashioned sense of, “So, what are you doing now?” Then you might have told them about your job or your family. In the days of social business networking, they want to know what you’re doing now. At this moment. And in 10 minutes, they want to know again.
The good news? No high heels required, and endless small talk is unacceptable. Instead, put on your fuzzy bunny shoes and prepare to exchange your wry impressions in 140 characters or less. And they don’t really want to know what you’re doing every 10 minutes of the day because their time is as valuable as yours.
Indeed, social business networking has come a long way from images of smoky back rooms or deals scribbled on napkins at the 19th hole. Though plenty of face-to-face networking still takes place everyday, today’s hi-tech environment gives business women more opportunities to build ongoing relationships through consistent interaction. As your personal and professional connections intertwine, you will encounter more opportunities to reach potential clients and business partners along the way.
How Women Use Social Networking
An April 2009 study by BlogHer, iVillage and Compass Partners polled women who participated in any social media activity weekly or more often, with about half of the sample using social media daily. Their findings are not surprising. Three-fourths of the women participated in social networks, 55 percent were active in some form of blogging, and 20 percent used Twitter. The women reported spending less time following mass media, including television, newspapers, magazines and radio than they had in years past.
The women favored social media platforms such as Facebook and MySpace to engage in activities that most closely resemble traditional networking. Seventy-five percent used the sites to keep in touch with friends and family.
A separate study by Forrester Research in June 2008 focused on “empowered women,” those ages 25-54 who say the Internet helps them manage their family life. Forty-two percent of these women reported using social media platforms at a time when only 33 percent of U.S. online adults were using them. These women were considered decision makers in their own homes and sources of recommendations from their friends.
It’s clear that women are embracing social media as a means of networking and of sharing opinions, and they do so more than the general population. Old friends, new acquaintances, customers and business partners are waiting to be found in the web of connections. The broader you cast your web, the more you are likely to find.
Where Do I Start?
If your main goal is to make general business connections, start with www.LinkedIn.com. The site allows you to add friends, join industry groups and start or participate in discussions. You can “meet” and connect with professionals from many different locations and industries.
“Much like researching the best travel sites for the most romantic hotel to visit in the Cayman Islands, when you’re on-line reviewing a potential client or business associate’s LinkedIn page, you’re able to get to know a lot about them in a short amount of time,” says Karen Dry, CGA, CGP, CAPS, CAASH, principal with Building Basics. “Their stats, work history, likes, dislikes and the people they enjoy associating with are all organized there for you to peruse.
“As you are introduced to someone, the first conversation – whether you decide to have it on-line or via the phone – gets immediately past all the initial, uncomfortable ‘who are you?’ and ‘what do you do?’ Your connection with this new contact starts almost in the same place a nice glass of wine takes you at a stuffy business event,” Dry says.
These contacts often prove an invaluable source of professional insight. Wondering about a national or regional issue? Throw it out to your industry group and let others from around the country weigh in. You'll have the opportunity to hear different perspectives and comments from others who have faced similar situations.
Linda Chell Rooney, MIRM, CAASH, CMP, CSP, is owner of eMarketing 24/7 and Advantage Builder Services, LLC. She also is a licensed New Jersey salesperson with Weidel Realtors. Chell Rooney recently polled homebuilder industry colleagues on LinkedIn to develop topics for six teleseminars, which together create “The National Sales Meeting” series. Augmented by input from colleagues on other social media platforms and by suggestions from subscribers to her eNewsletters, the responses enabled her to create a group of teleseminars that will respond directly to the needs of her target audience.
“The results have been exceptional,” says Chell Rooney, “and we’re looking forward to a very successful teleseminar series.”
If LinkedIn is an online rolodex and resume, then Facebook is a cocktail party. While LinkedIn may be the best opportunity to learn from others in your industry,www.Facebook.com is a strong tool for reconnecting with old friends and making new friends through interconnections. As your friends change their “status,” you may receive brief updates on their activities. Users have the ability to import photos and their personal blogs. And if Facebook figures out that you and another user have several mutual friends, the site will suggest new Facebook friends for you.
“Facebook and LinkedIn have proven to be invaluable tools for me as our industry has changed,” says Tammie Smoot, MIRM, Regional Sales Manager of Move.com. “These allow me to keep up with clients and prospects as they change jobs and contact information. The ability to find and connect with business associates from the past has led to multiple sales and revenue gain with the added benefit of renewed friendships.”
A third mainstream social business networking tool is Twitter, which comes with its own tongue-twister vocabulary. The “tweeple” (people) on Twitter tweet (send) tweets (messages) of up to 140 characters each to update others on their status, thoughts or perhaps their most recent blog posts. The tweeple who receive your tweets – your followers – can log onto www.Twitter.com to see your stream. Applications such as Tweet Deck allow you to keep Twitter open on your desktop so you can follow your favorite tweeters and dispense your own tweets with ease. Texting tweets from your cell phone gets messages out quickly when you’re on the go.
Most twitterers (another word for “tweeple”) prefer twonversation. (Okay, I just made that word up.) They don’t want a one-way stream of consciousness; they want to interact with you, exchange ideas and let you know what’s going on in their worlds. Of course, neither you nor your followers want every detail; tweet just enough to keep your tweeple engaged. And no successful twitterers are all business and no play. Infuse your personality into your tweets unless you want a backlash at the “unfollow” link.
Twitter feels a lot like Instant Messaging in its execution, but remember that it is an open conversation. It can be seen by others at all times (except if you DM or Direct Message someone), and it can be forwarded, posted to blogs and propagated throughout the Internet in seconds. If in doubt, tweak your tweets for accuracy and kindness.
Keeping it Within the Industry
Other social networking sites are targeted to the real estate industry and are useful for building relationships with real estate agents. At www.ActiveRain.com, agents connect with each other, builders and other building industry players. Like LinkedIn, ActiveRain is a strong avenue for building professional relationships. Members can also start a personal blog on their ActiveRain page, creating another outlet for connecting with clients and increasing search engine optimization for your Web site.
Trulia is another real estate-focused sites with social media components that are similar to networking on FaceBook or ActiveRain. You can use the networking tool to reach buyers directly or to promote your neighborhoods.
There’s Got to be More...
Just like follow up is required after any Chamber of Commerce mixer, social networking is just one part of the mix. After your connections are made, you will want to use additional types of social media, including blogs, e-mail marketing and online public relations, to keep people engaged.
More than a third of consumers use a search engine to find more information after viewing an online ad. They are likely to go the same route after meeting you or being introduced to your company through social networking. Your other social media endeavors will ensure that they (and you) like what they see when they Google your name.
As women seek more information, blogs in particular become more reliable to them than the chatter on networking sites. The BlogHer/iVillage study mentioned above found that 64 percent of women surveyed use blogs as a source of information, while 43 percent use them for advice and recommendations and 55 percent for sharing opinions. As you encourage your new and old friends to become clients or business associates, reputable online placements can validate your company and your message.
How Do I get Started?
There’s a world of people out there who are ready to meet you, and I’m one of them. Engage in social networking and be sure to Tweet me at @AtlantaPR.
Now, kick off the high heels, slide into the bunny slippers, TiVo your shows, and start building relationships.
Carol M. Flammer, MIRM, CAPS, CSP is Managing Partner of mRELEVANCE, LLC, a firm that combines the power of Internet marketing, social media and public relations. She is creator and publisher of Atlanta’s favorite real estate blog, www.AtlantaRealEstateForum.com. Flammer speaks nationally, conducts workshops and creates strategies on social media for home builders, developers and others in the construction and real estate industry. You can find all of her social networking sites at www.CarolFlammer.com or visit www.mRELEVANCE.com for tips and tactics for engaging in social media. Follow her on Twitter @AtlantaPR or just Google her name.