Benefiting From Social Networks

Mention the term social network and sites like MySpace and Flickr might come to mind. Or maybe it’s social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us and Digg you first think about. Social networks though predate the internet by many years. Your local chamber of commerce is a social network as is your family and friends. Networking has always been a way to market a business and generate new leads and sales. The same offline networking used to generate business can be used to generate online business and even seo your site.

The Origin Of Social Communities?

Way back in the day when we were all cavemen without access to roast duck with mango salsa if we wanted to eat we went out and hunted for food. It might not have been so bad to track and kill a small animal to satisfy our hunger, but the food didn’t last long and the time it took to find more food might have meant we were back at it pretty fast. Having a spear meant you could hunt something a little bigger, though of course that meant guarding your food while you weren’t eating. Not a very easy life and I’m sure we all appreciate picking up dinner at the local supermarket.

The task of finding food becomes a little easier when we as cavemen team up with a cavebuddy and can hunt larger prey whose meat would last beyond a single meal. Each of us could take turns watching and defending our kill while the other went off for a time or slept and assuming we sufficiently trusted our cavebuddy. Add a few more people to the community and some could stay behind while the others brought back even larger prey for everyone.

Add more and more people and we can begin assigning tasks to each member of out little society. Stronger members could go out hunting for meat while those not so skilled at the hunt could stay home and begin to grow vegetables so we could all enjoy a salad with out steak. Maybe even some mango salsa on that salad. The idea though is that as our network grew being able to eat became a little easier and easier until we had to time to go invent things like computers and the internet and take social networks to a whole new level.

Modern Networks And Making Them Work For You

The same basic familial concept applies today in that social networks are great aides in trying to accomplish something. Instead of thinking about it as a specific site like MySpace who’s traffic you debate how to monetize or whether it’s worth monetizing see them as what they started out as. A group of people helping each other.

Earlier today a client of mine emailed to let me know she had referred me to someone needing a redesign of their site. A simple example of a social network in action. Initially I helped her by building a site she was happy with and now she can return some help in directing potential work my way. Hopefully in time I’ll be able to return the favor by directing business her way as well. The same is true for every client I have and for those who consider me a client.

You need to build links in order to gain search visibility for the various pages on your site. Even more you want trusted authority links to build a solid link profile that can protect you from the bad neighborhood links you may inadvertently acquire or the mostly worthless links you can easily find from the many web directories starting up every day. Instead how about meeting like minded individuals who can provide some of those links?

We write on similar topics. I comment on your blog and mention your posts in some of mine giving both links and traffic. You notice the traffic and my hopefully intelligent comments and take notice of my blog. In time you start commenting on mine as well and passing the occasional link to posts you particularly like. We’ve developed our own small network that can easily grow as we each form the same small network with other bloggers and direct our other small networks toward each other forming a larger and loosely coupled network of people in the position of helping each other with links, clients and customers, and potential contacts.

Participating in communities like forums is a great way to build social networks online. The back and forth in forums gives you a chance to get to know people a little better and develop a relationship. Perhaps not as strong a relationship as meeting them face to face, but still a relationship that can be leveraged for your business and theirs. Expand upon that online relationship by meeting at an industry related conference and you strengthen the ties of the network.

Every industry has it’s communities. Whatever your industry is I can pretty much guarantee there are some existing networks in it. Find those networks and even more find the major players in those networks and work at getting their attention. If you truly are in an industry without an existing network start one. That could easily set you up as one of the major players in your field.

I can’t speak for you, but I’m much more likely to help a friend than a stranger. Not that I wouldn’t help strangers, but if I know you and respect you I’ll likely give a little more of my time to see you do well. That’s why you want to get the attention of those in your field who can do the most to benefit your site and your business. I don’t mean you want to pester them to get their attention, though that’s certainly been done before. What I mean is find out where they hang out online or offline and become a part of that community. If there’s an industry related forum join it. Take part in the discussion and make thoughtful comments. You will get noticed if you do.

Your industry may be large and joining those communities may be intimidating or simply hard to get into. If you can’t get into the A list from the outset work you way up starting at the B’s or C’s. There will be many people at one level of the network that also take part in the network above. Or there may be B list people you can get to know who happen to network with A listers. You never really know where that one contact that can take your business to new places will come from.

In trying to gain the attention of others in the network who can help start small. While smaller players won’t be able to help as much as the major players it is easier to gain their attention and get something back. And in doing so you gain traction into the social networks they belong to.

Contribute To The Network To Profit From It

You gain attention not by talking about how great you are, but by helping others. If you want to join a community you need to be able to offer something to it. Once upon a time you needed to prove you could help take down a woolly mammoth. Today you can help by giving advice in response to a question, or offering free content in the form of an article, forum post, or blog comment. Most networks online are open and most anyone can join, but there’s more to becoming part of that network than simply signing up. Get to know the community. Take a passive role at first if you have to learn what makes the community tick, but once you do understand how the community works take an active role by contributing something back to make it more than it was before you arrived.

It always strikes me when someone joins a forum, makes a few spammy or otherwise self promoting posts and leaves expecting some return. The community almost instantly recognizes the new post for what it is and begins the parade of posts calling the original spam, just in case there’s someone who didn’t notice right away. Those threads soon die and I highly doubt the original poster receives any traffic. Instead of gaining the help of a valuable network they’ve at best missed an opportunity and at worst turned a community against them.

Social networks of all kinds have always been and always will always be one of the best ways to build a small business. It doesn’t matter if the network is online like a forum or offline like your local chamber of commerce. The key to making a social network work for you is to become part of the community and contribute something to it. The more you can give the more you will likely get back.

References

List of Social Networking Sites

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

2 comments

  1. Heh heh. Do you read my mind?

    I was just thinking of how social networks (no, not those ‘social’ bookmarking sites) affect people. And bam! I see a new post in my RSS feed reader :)

    It is really interesting to observe how intricate your path is if you engage in real networking. You simply share your knowledge and expertise with people (on forums, blogs, etc) and sometimes end up talking to various interesting people, reading some interesting articles you didn’t know about and such.

    A broad topic, this social netwoking thing :)

  2. I actually did read your mind. One of my many abilitlies is telepathy, though I don’t like to share that too often. I guess all I really have is good timing, though that telepathy thing would be cool.

    It is a broad topic. Social networks can be great just for generating ideas or finding interesting people. In business they can be extremely beneficial. We’re all much more likely to help people we know than those we don’t know. At the very least it can create an awareness of your site with someone who’s in a position to help.

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