This is a guest post by Carol Montrose. Networking today is vastly different than “the old days”. Romancing old clients, and seducing new clients used to be a face-to-face production… now… not so much! Carol explores the way things have changed, and how you can enhance your image today. 2010 style if you will.
Networking doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did twenty (or even ten) years ago. It used to mean going to conventions, shaking hands, passing out business cards, and engaging people via your charm and personality. It meant attending seminars, giving lectures, and wining and dining the clientele.
Businesses used to send out cards for the holidays, gift baskets and flowers for illness or injury, and ensure that employees knew the names of clients (as well as their families). In short, networking used to be personal. And there are still plenty of people who meet clients and associates in this manner. But the onset of social networking has changed the landscape for business-owners who wish to expand by spreading their name and gaining brand recognition.
Now, much of the legwork can be done from the comfort of a home office rather than through travel, cold calls, and lavishing personal attention on potential (and current) customers. And frankly, the resultant exposure blows personalized networking out of the water. To that end, there are several ways in which you can utilize online networking advantageously in your business to connect with clients and enhance the image of your brand.
Build a Website
Your business website is not only a place for customers to make purchases, it is your greatest networking tool. You should view it as your first point of contact with most clients and treat it as a way to impress them. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go all out and implement the latest, greatest, and most expensive techniques in web design.
But it does mean you have to know your audience. So determine your demographic before you even get started. Your site should be professional, easy to navigate, and offer everything consumers would find if they walked into a physical store, from merchandise to information to everything you want your brand image to impart both graphically (logo, design) and textually (tone, quality).
Target Your Niche
Direct marketing is a sound plan for anyone who wishes to reach their most likely consumer audience rather than casting the net and seeing who gets caught. This can be accomplished by using pay-per-click, banners, or other types of ads on websites that are complimentary to your business.
The great thing about doing this online (as opposed to, say, handing out fliers) is that you can reach a far larger audience, but still enjoy measurable results to track the success of your efforts. And it practically ensures that there will be no negative response since people are not really being solicited, but rather choosing you of their own volition.
Learn About SEO
Search engine optimization is yet another way to ensure that the traffic coming to your site is fruitful. By securing a high ranking on search engines, you can bring visitors to your site who are actually seeking your service, rather than people who just bumble in by accident. For example, if you sell custom window treatments, you will probably want to come up within the first five listings on Google for such searches as “custom window treatments”, “custom curtains”, or “custom blinds”.
Engaging the services of an SEO professional can be pricey, but consider for a moment what the top two or three listing are paying Google for premier placement and suddenly it seems like a steal. And by the way, anyone can learn SEO if they put in the time and effort, so you may not even have to pay for it.
Show Your Face On Facebook
Social networking sites allow you to not only get your brand out on the web and available to a vast and diverse audience, they also open the lines of communication that allow you to encourage positive feedback and counter a tarnished image.
You can have direct contact with customers or interested parties in order to keep them appraised of information of note (new products, sales, and events) as well as promote productive interaction by addressing concerns directly and adding people as “friends” (which sounds a lot less formal than “clients”).
Tweet Your Customers
Many businesses have finally decided to listen to customer complaints about automated phone systems that leave you on hold for twenty minutes only to dump your line or call centers in countries where English is clearly not the first language. They have done this by twisting Twitter to suit their purposes.
Now, customers seeking an answer can tweet the company and receive answers almost immediately from a dedicated staff of screeners. The real time-saver is inherent in the nature of Twitter as a limited form of communication. Both queries and responses must be short and to the point. Customers receive instant gratification and leave the interaction satisfied (and much less likely to complain publicly and diminish the brand).