Recently, in my role as Director of Digital & Social Media with Ackermann PR, I gave a presentation to Leadership Knoxville about how social media has become a valuable part of professional networking, even in a smaller city like ours, where one might assume that everyone already knows one another. I compared effective use of social media to the still very valuable face-to-face networking that takes place at civic clubs such as Rotary and Civitan, which many professionals and businesspeople have long considered an indispensable part of their ongoing business development strategies. At the same presentation, Gavin Baker of Ruby Tuesday referred to social media as “word of mouth on steroids.” And really, that’s a good way to frame my point as well: social media is civics club participation on steroids. It takes the benefits of club participation and kicks them up a notch – never replacing face to face networking, but expanding it.
In order to explore how personal social media use can offer valuable networking and professional opportunities, let’s take the example of Sarah, a 36 year old Knoxville banker with a husband, two young children, a demanding job, and a need to meet people and grow business for her division of the bank. Sarah has lived in Knoxville for five years, but still often feels like she isn’t making all of the personal and professional connections she would like. She meets people at her job, at the church her family has joined and yes, even through the Downtown Knoxville civics club she has joined, and for which she even chairs a committee. She hands out her business card – when it seems appropriate and not too pushy – at meetings, club events, church activities and even at the salon where she gets her nails done, but she isn’t feeling like she’s getting “connected” with enough people from enough of the interconnected and overlapping circles that make up the fabric of the community.
For example, she knows that her co-chair on the club committee, Mike plays golf with the wife of the CEO of a business she would like to have the opportunity to meet, but she can’t seem to find a polite, graceful way to suggest that Mike should get his wife to introduce him to the CEO. That would seem awkward and pushy. Plus, she doesn’t know anything about the CEO beyond the fact that he heads up a company whose business she would like to bring in for the bank. She knows she would be able to make a better pitch for her bank’s services if she had some idea of the CEO’s interests, background and current activity, but as a busy working mom, she can’t often get out for evening cocktails or charity events where so many of the best networking opportunities with people like this CEO seem to take place.
But after reading an article by Chris Brogan on personal branding and social networking, Sarah decides to give this online networking thing a try, to see whether she can use the tools to expand on the face to face connections she is making, and grow business for her bank. After reading a few more articles, and talking to a realtor friend who seems to be getting quite a bit of new business via her own online social networking activities, Sarah has a plan, which she begins to implement. Here’s what she does, and what happens for her:
- After taking a look at all of the various social media tools, platforms and activities, and figuring out which ones seem to be most productive and active for Knoxville’s business community (this varies from community to community, just as Rotary is more popular in some cities, while Lion’s Club has more members in others). She decides to go with a personal blog, Facebook, Twitter, and participation in the Knoxville Social Media Association.
- Because Sarah is already very busy at work, and doesn’t want her boss to think she is “playing around” online, she writes up a brief plan explaining how she intends to use social media in a strategic way to grow business. She lets her boss know that he can expect to sometimes see her on Facebook during work hours, and that she will be starting a blog. By explaining what she plans to do in a proactive way, and building time to do these networking activities into her overall time management plan, Sarah gets buy-in from her boss and makes sure she has time to begin engaging with her chosen social networks in a well-executed way. She knows she wants to get this right or not do it at all.
- After signing up for a free account at the Knoxville Social Media Association site, Sarah takes a deep breath and jumps into the ongoing “Introduce Yourself” discussion, posting a message letting others know who she is, what she does, and admitting that she’s new to social networking online, and that she’s eager to learn more. Several friendly members send her private messages welcoming her, and offering to help her with figuring online stuff out if she ever needs help.
- Sarah starts out by creating her blog. Since she’s a banker, and because she has discovered that there is no blogger in the Knoxville market who writes specifically about banks and banking in the way she would like to approach it, she realizes that there is an opening and an opportunity to become a local thought leader and a trusted voice in this niche content area. Sarah decides to grab this opportunity.
- She sends a message to one of the KSMA members who offered to help her, asking for recommendations on how to create a blog. He suggests that she try the very easy, free blog set up available at Blogger. He tells her that while Blogger is a great starting place for blog beginners who are uncertain of their technical abilities, he recommends that she eventually move her blog to a more flexible and powerful platform like WordPress.
- In only an afternoon, Sarah is able to figure the easy, step by step directions at Blogger, and she has her own blog set up! She already reads other banking bloggers around the country, as well as Josh Flory, who blogs on the topic for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Once she has a few blog posts of her own under her belt, she nervously sends Josh an email (via the address on his blog) introducing herself and her blog’s URL. She lets him know that she has added his blog to her blogroll. Only a few days later, she is delighted when her boss stops by her office to congratulate her on having “made the newspaper,” after Josh writes a paragraph in his well-read blog about “Knoxville’s new banker-blogger.” He links to Sarah’s blog, tells readers her name and what bank she works for, and says he is really enjoying following Sarah’s smart, interesting blogging. Within 24 hours, Sarah begins seeing more comments on her blog, and two days later she gets a phone call from a business prospect who says he has been reading her blog since seeing the link in the News Sentinel. He tells her that he likes her approach, and that from her blog, she “seems nice.” He asks her to meet him for lunch to discuss moving his business to her division.
- She begins getting similar calls or emails every week or two after she adds her blog to the News Sentinel’s free blog aggregator, which pushes her newest blig headlines out to thousands of new readers each time she posts. Soon, she receives her first email from a Knoxville TV reporter, asking her to appear as an expert in a segment he’s producing on the local economy. He told her that he found her blog through the Sentinel aggregator, read back through the last several posts, and realized she has a great voice and a lot of credibility via her position with the bank. She does the interview, once again directing valuable earned attention to her employer, while earning kudos from her boss. The TV appearance results in a call from a small business association group, asking her to be the featured speaker at their next event. Sarah makes the speech and picks up two valuable business development prospects. 26 people leave the meeting with her business card, which now has her blog’s URL printed on it along with all of the other contact information.
- Sarah already has a Facebook account, but she had been keeping it as private as possible, using it very little and only connecting with about 50 close friends and family members. As part of her new plan, Sarah opens her Facebook privacy settings to all friends and everyone in the Knoxville Network. She then begins making it a practice to search for and request a Facebook friend connection with every single professional contact and business prospect she meets face to face over the course of the week. At least half of them accept, and within one month, Sarah is effectively networked with several hundred new Knoxvillians, and she is only one or two degree away from hundreds more. She begins updating her status one to two times each day – never more – mixing the appropriately personal (comments on her kids’ soccer games, the family’s church activities, and the occasional wickedly funny observation on po culture) with the professional. Very, very occasionally, she is self-promotional in her status updates, letting people know that she will be speaking at a particular event, or that she’s pleased to have just closed a big deal for the bank. She takes time each day to read the status updates of the “friends” she has made on Facebook, and leaves birthday wishes or other appropriate comments on their posts, thus building relationships. Sarah is surprised to get a Facebook email message only a few weeks later from a banking headhunter from Chicago. The headhunter says he found Sarah after following her comment on a mutual Facebook friend’s status update. The headhunter says that he read the info on Sarah’s Facebook page, which led him to her blog. The blog impressed him so much that he wanted to let Sarah know that if she ever decides to change jobs, he would love to hear from her. Sarah responds on Facebook, gets his email address and promises to be in touch if she ever decides to make a change. Then she sends him an invitation to become her Facebook friend, which he accepts.
- Sarah next dives into the Knoxville Twitter community. She signs up for an account, grabbing a “Twitter handle” that reflects both her name and the name of her blog. Via Twitterholic and Twittergrader, she researches which Knoxville Twitterers are active and influential, and she begins following them. She’s surprised when many of them begin following her back, before she makes a single Tweet. Sarah waits to join the conversation until she has listened in for a while, learning the nuances of how to “do” Twitter right. Then she jumps in. She lets her Facebook followers and blog readers know that they can follow her on Twitter, and she soon has 200 followers. She mixes up personal, professional, promotional and blog headline posts in a smart, effective way, and she begins interacting with local media and business people whom she has never met in person, but knows from their work. Se generally refrains from posting the same ststus updates at Facebook and Twitter, giving people a reason to follow her on both platforms, and recognizing that each one is different: Facebook is about WHO you know, while Twitter is more about WHAT you know. Sarah gets this, and crafts her status updates accordingly. She attends a Knoxville “Tweet-up” at a downtown pub, and meets many of her new Twitter friends in person for the first time. She has a great time, and gains new blog readers, Facebook friends, and yes…clients.
TO BE CONTINUED….