Online business networking is not only about finding followers and “likes” for your social network pages. It is more about making a connection.  How can you benefit most from your online networking efforts?

First you want to build a relationship on mutual ground that both parties benefit from. Second, be clear about what you offer and how that helps others. Third, don’t be afraid to give referrals to businesspeople that can help your clients.  Be the person that goes out their way to thank someone or offer someone a mentoring relationship.

Next, know the reason you are networking and don’t waver. There are many rabbit trails in the business world – put your “focus” glasses on and get to work. Finally, when networking online you need to open up the lines of communication. Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation. Once you get the other person talking start actively listening so you know how best to meet their need.

1. Build Relationships not Sales
Networking is all about the relationship you build with your business peers. Get them talking about you in a positive way. Engage them in a discussion of current business practices. Reveal a little about who you are in real life. Try not to use the third person when talking; rather use your real name and the pronoun “I” instead of “we” and “our”.

Contribute valuable information to the conversation that will encourage sharing. Offer to help them build their business by guest blogging on your site or being interviewed for a podcast.

2. Give Over and Beyond What is Expected
There are some things that are expected in a business relationship like getting contact information, referring businesses to clients, supporting independent businesses and reviewing products and giving feedback. Go one up and offer your peers more than what is expected.

Instead of sending an email, send a handwritten card. Do what 90% of your business peers don’t – call them and set up a gathering to brainstorm ways in which you can support each other’s business.

3. Know Your Purpose & Stick to It
If you know why you are networking online you will waste less time. It might be helpful for you to write this down and place it at your desk. This way when you set aside time to network on social media or forums you are focused on what needs to be done instead of dilly dallying and wasting time. Setting a timer might be beneficial at first.

Having an accountability partner can also benefit you. Mastermind groups are great for this – connect with each other once a week and review your goals.

4. Ask Open Ended Questions
Just as in face-to-face contacts you want to engage in conversation, your online relationships are no different. To do this try not to ask yes or no questions rather ask open-ended questions that will get people talking. Find out what they are looking for and how best you can serve them. Asking them about who their ideal customer is will help you make profitable referrals.

5. Be Interested and Listen Actively
You might not be able to look your contact in the eyes and smile online but you can still relay interest by actively listening (or reading) to what they have to say. Instead of working out your response listen for clues as to what is important to them. If you need to, write a couple of notes down.

Managing your online networking can be beneficial if you have a plan and incorporate it wisely. Remember to nurture relationships, listen attentively, ask questions to spark conversation, give more than is expected and above all know your purpose and don’t deviate from it.