I was never a fan of the cocktail party-variety networking scene. I will never be one to dart around a room shoving business cards into people's hands. I prefer meaningful conversations with people, getting to know them and vice versa.
But social media networking? That's something different altogether. Done right, it's never a hit-and-run. Rather, it consists of building relationships over months and even years by sharing information -- both professional and personal -- through posts, comments and responding to questions in various online communities.
What's the return on investment, the ROI, for putting that kind of time into social media? Actually, it's called the RON -- the "return on networking."
And for me, it's huge.
I've been on Facebook for five years; I also have Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts, among others. All totaled, I'm now approaching 100,000 friends, followers and connections. Those followers expose my name and message to their audiences every time they "like" one of my posts or share one of my links. Last week, someone re-tweeted something I'd posted on Twitter -- he had 130,000 followers! That's a potential audience of 130,000 people I likely would have never reached otherwise.
Talk about exposure!
Who knows how many of those people may someday become my clients? Who cares? I'll still consider the exposure a good return on networking. Here's why.
The RON of social media isn't always tangible, not immediately, anyway. By establishing a continued presence online through regularly sharing content of use to my followers, I'm building my platform and my reputation as an expert. That grows in surprising ways -- and it lives in surprising places.
A recent case in point: Late last year, I got a call from a prominent New York City hair stylist, the director of a salon in one of that city's premier department stores. He wanted to talk about some publicity needs and what we at EMSI could do to help him.
When I asked how he got my name, he explained he'd written some books over the years with a co-author, and she'd heard me at a speaking engagement.
Well, that made sense. Speaking at conferences is still a great way to get your name out while also building credibility.
But the next thing he said came as a complete surprise.
"So, then I contacted the corporate office (of the department store chain) and asked what PR agency they would recommend. They said, 'Marsha Friedman, of EMSI PR; we heard she's the best.' "
I may love to shop, but I don't know a soul in the corporate offices of that high-end retail chain! The only possible way they could have heard "she's the best" was through social media.
Just being on Twitter or Google+ isn't enough, of course. You have to make a diligent effort to regularly post content that people find valuable, including links to informative articles, tips relevant to your topic, and/or informed insights on topics in the news.
You also have to "be a human," as our lead social media strategist, Jeni Hinojosa, likes to say. She and our other social media producers encourage clients to send photos when they go on vacation, celebrate milestones or engage in hobbies. Posting those photos with a comment adds a personal touch that allows followers to connect on a more emotional level.
Our social media producers also make sure clients' personalities shine in their posts, showing their sense of humor and letting followers in on the other things they care about, whether it's victims of a natural disaster or a holiday celebration.
And we interact. We strive to respond to every comment or question posted on our network sites. Interacting is engaging, and people who are engaged tend to be happy followers. The more you take part in conversations via comments and responses, the more lively and visible your presence becomes.
The RON includes increased traffic to your website; increased trust in your brand and what you're selling; and greater word of mouth than you could ever hope for by attending a cocktail party or even a speaking engagement.
Just remember, as with all public relations: Don't go out with a sales pitch. Do go out with information that helps others. Before you know it, people will be talking about you, too!
If you're not building your reputation and visibility through social media, you're missing out on one of marketing's most valuable tools!