The glory of social networking, for entrepreneurs, is that it’s a low-cost and open-ended platform for finding the people who will be interested in your business. From trolling your LinkedIn network for possible VC contributors to blogging about your business as you build a customer base, social networking can, indeed, be a powerful and low-cost tool in your business-building and marketing workshop.
But if you use the tool the wrong way, it’s awfully hard to make something good with it. At best, you’ll be inefficient. At worst, you’ll waste a lot of time you don’t have and fail to get results at all.
Are you making these mistakes with social networking?
1. Spreading yourself too thin.
There are no longer any questions about where the customers are going, so businesses are following, and we all trot merrily off to the Internet. As the Internet continues to expand in volume, it produces more and more specific networking options. There are niche networking sites, endless forums, and online communities for every taste and topic.
All that specialization can be useful for getting in touch with your target market, but it can also be overwhelming. Every new social networking platform offers a new opportunity, and entrepreneurs find it difficult to pick just a couple and focus on those. But failing to focus puts you in the impossible position of trying to keep up with far more than you can. You end up making little or no impact on any of your online networks.
Solution: Pick two or three social networking venues and focus on building your relationships within that network. Once you’ve established a strong following and developed a routine for consistent interaction at a level you can keep up with, you can consider venturing into new networks. At that point, though, you might not even need to.
2. Mixing personal and professional social worlds.
There’s nothing wrong with having a personal, friendly tone as part of your professional network. There is a problem when you’re recounting last night’s bar adventure via your professional Twitter account, or posting photos of your dog, your kids, and your newly stained deck, you’re mixing things up too much.
As an entrepreneur, you may not have a boss holding you accountable for what you post online, so you’ve got to set your own standards and stick to them.
Solution: The bottom line? No matter how cute that photo of your dog is, or how funny that joke was, if it’s not directly related to your business, leave it off your professional social networks.
3.Â Neglecting to offer value.
The purpose of social networking is to connect with people who would be interested in what your business offers and cultivate relationships with them; as you build rapport and trust, they move from contacts to customers. That’s what entrepreneurs need to see happening.
The key to cultivating relationships and building trust is to offer something of value to the people you make connections with. Otherwise, you’re just so much additional noise in an overcrowded party. Don’t be the guy hanging around, just making small talk. Be the guy who brings a cold drink over, or the girl who turns up some better music and gets everybody dancing.
Solution: Helpful, informative, specific content is, generally, the easiest and best way to offer value via the Internet. Spend far more time creating content than “building a network.” Once you’ve got the content in place, you can start sharing it.
4. Failing to outsource.
Oh, the entrepreneurial pitfall! You’ve had to do it all, you’re smart enough to figure it out, so why would you pay out your dwindling capital to have someone else do it for you? The reason is simple, and you’ve heard it before: your time is money.
If you’re spending hours on creating a Facebook page, a website, a blog, or some other item you could easily outsource, you are spending money on it. It will just cost you in terms of lost profit and lost opportunity rather than in terms of the cash you already hold.
Solution: Outsourcing the details of social networking does not have to bust your entrepreneurial budget. Hit Craigslist with an ad and you can get a money-hungry student to do in a couple of hours what might have taken you a couple of weeks.
5. Mistaking “networking” for just plain old working.
Interacting on your social networks – especially with influencers in your target market and potential customers – gives you a great feeling of accomplishing something. And yes, you are building relationships that can turn into profit and growth for your business.
That’s important, but it’s not your primary work, and if you confuse the busyness of networking with the productivity of real working, you’ll find yourself falling behind on your most important to-do items.
Solution: Designate specific times, and time limits, for marketing via social networks. If you find yourself unable to keep up within those time limits, perhaps you’ve spread yourself too thin? Or perhaps you need to outsource some of the networking upkeep?
6. Mistaking peers for clients/customers.
Entrepreneurs are drawn to other entrepreneurs, and it’s fun to swap war stories and anecdotes, give tips, offer advice, and commiserate over the economy or the unique struggles entrepreneurs and business owners face.
Your entrepreneurial pals can be valuable peers for many reasons, but peers are not the same as customers, in most cases. While you’re investing time into peer relationships, your potential customers are somewhere else, unaware of your existence.
Solution: Save some of your downtime for peer interaction, and stick to building customer relationships during your designated social networking time for business. Reading up on entrepreneurial blogs, sharing stories, and just chatting can be a good way to unwind at the end of the day, in between meetings, or when you’re stuck traveling or at your Aunt Mindy’s 17th annual bluegrass and barbecue hoedown.
The key is to keep your goals for social networking ever present so you can stay focused on investing your time (and, sometimes, your money) into what will get you the most important results. If you’re not sure what your social networking goals are, that’s the first place to start: get a social networking strategy in place, and stick to it. If you focus on what matters, and avoid the mistakes so commonly made, you’ll see a good return on your time while still getting the work done.
Annie Mueller enjoys creating a personal yet professional voice to render complex topics understandable. Her passion is helping home, small, and micro businesses succeed. Read more about Annie here.