By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Building a social network can be a lot like climbing a mountain. To be successful, it's advisable to have a plan, some good gear, a competent ground crew and an experienced guide who can show you the ropes.
Getting to the top may mean different things to different people. For example, some merchant level salespeople envision large merchant portfolios with global or national footprints; others would prefer to become known as trusted resources within their communities.
No matter how you define success, online social networking can help you establish an Internet presence, connect with other industry professionals, and make you accessible to a wider market in need of your services and expertise.
Begin by figuring out what you want to achieve from social networking in order to focus on the activities that will bring the best results.
Are you looking for employment or consulting opportunities? Post an announcement on a network site, and use the job search feature. Request an introduction from your connections to arrange a confidential interview.
Would you like to review the profiles of potential employees? Prescreen your candidates with customized search tools with background, industry, company and geography filters.
Is your primary objective to promote your products and services, or position yourself as an industry specialist? Consider a micro-advertising campaign, in which you pay per click on each qualified respondent.
The more clarity you bring to your networking activities, the more worthwhile you will find the overall experience.
What would you most like people to know about you and your business?
If you've ever worked on a mission statement or elevator speech, you know how much effort and attention to detail it takes to produce a 30-second sound bite on who you are and what you do. You need the same kind of discipline and focus to create an effective profile.
Take your time, and run it by a few friends before you post it. A good profile, like a good resume, is concise and bullet pointed. It can be scanned as well as read. Make sure you write it with your particular target audience in mind.
Other network gear essentials include a high-quality recent photo, some links to your Web site or blog, and a podcast or PowerPoint presentation that provides more details about your products and services.
In addition to the wealth of available resources on social networking sites, there are knowledgeable professionals behind the technology who manage content, keep the pages fresh and interesting, and can answer questions on the features and functionality of their sites.
I have occasionally sent e-mails to the staff at LinkedIn and have found them to be responsive and thoughtful, always asking what else they can do to enhance my networking experience.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have search engines, links, advertising, discussion boards, common-interest groups, and celebrity interviews that offer new ways to exchange ideas and information, as well as meet like-minded professionals.
If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by the options, or by the amount of time it takes to create and manage an array of profiles on select social network sites, you may want to consider outsourcing.
Like experienced guides who know their way around a mountain, consultants who specialize in social networking can help optimize your profile and deliver the right message to your audience. There are numerous ways in which these specialists can help you leverage the power and global scale of social networks. They can:
Either way, it's important to keep your connections aware of what you are doing and keep your profile up-to-date in the broader network so you make yourself available to the right people and opportunities.
A network consultant will help you frame your message to a general audience, while creating more personalized messages for smaller, target markets.
Networking consultants facilitate the organic growth of your trusted network of friends and industry associates who will in turn introduce you to other trusted friends and associates.
The more consultants know about your business, the more they can fine-tune the search engines and prescreen prospective candidates and business partners, ensuring quality as well as quantity in your expanding network of friends, colleagues and business partners.
How often do we need to remind our customers to leave the bankcard processing to us so they can focus on their core businesses? If you find you are "twittering away" your time at the office, maybe it's time to call a social networking specialist so you can go back to what you do best: reaching the pinnacle of success with your own network of satisfied merchant customers.
Dale S. Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive with a diversified background in sales and marketing. Her company, DSL Direct LLC, helps industry professionals and business owners leverage electronic transaction technology. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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