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Building connections with other businesspeople takes time and effort. Your networking opportunities are no longer limited to local groups.  With social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter you can build your network virtually.

It may surprise you but this whole networking online thing isn’t “all about you”. No, it really doesn’t matter how many people “like” you on Facebook if those people could care less about your service or product. Customer focused businesses still trump those focused on numbers alone.

Numbers aren’t all bad, they still tell you about how you are doing but they can’t be the focus. In gaining the numbers you don’t want to lose sight of your purpose, which is to build a relationship with your customer and like-minded businesses that nets positive word-of-mouth referrals.

Online networking has some benefits that offline networking doesn’t have. It allows you to stay in contact with your clients like never before. You can add status updates of various conferences, meetings or events where you’ll be located as they happen. You can offer a limited time discount on a whim. I.e. receive a free drink when you purchase a nacho burrito between 11am – 12pm

Another advantage of online networking is that it makes it easier for you to engage with your contacts. Allow positive and negative reviews on your Facebook wall. Meet the real-life needs of your customers by solving their problems right away in a very visible way.

You want clients to be comfortable with expressing their needs. Don’t stop there however; one of the greatest advantages of this medium is that you can make changes to how you are doing things from real-time customer feedback. I.e. if you posted a resource in error you can fix it, offer your apologies and a compensation gift at the same time.

Networking on Facebook
Facebook offers two ways in which you can connect with others online. You can create a fan page for your fans and customers. You can also create a group where you can engage with other businesses. On your fan page you want to keep updates about your daily business activities. You also want to engage in conversation with your fans by asking questions and sharing resources that benefit them.

In a mastermind group you want accountability, feedback, tips, resources and mentoring. Getting to know the niche customer of your peers will help you better understand whom to refer to them when the time comes. Sometimes though you just need a pat on the back and that’s okay.

Networking on LinkedIn
On LinkedIn you can engage with like minded businesses and mentors that can guide you into your next business milestone. Join groups with your peers, interact, share tips and resources and ask questions. If there isn’t a group that meets your specific needs, create one.

When networking online don’t focus on what someone can do for you, rather focus on how best you can meet their needs. Find out what the ideal customer is for each contact so you’ll know who to refer their way. You want to be the “go to” person when someone needs a referral.

Networking on Twitter
Twitter has turned into a long list of links and advertisements so don’t get lost in the shuffle. How will you stand out? You want to engage in conversation with your followers so they learn to trust your recommendations and click your resource. Without the trust you are just another advertiser or link junky.

Ask thoughtful questions that you really want an answer to. I.e. how was your Holiday Weekend? When your follower answers the question remember to thank them for taking the time to comment.