Beginners Guide to Social Networks (1)

by Andy Lopata on December 9, 2011 · 0 comments

In October 2008, participation in social networks online overtook visits to pornography sites* and their prominence continues to grow, as does the number of networks we have to choose from. In September 2010 50% of all UK internet users reported being active on social networks**.

However, many businesses and individuals still struggle to recognise why they should participate online, what relevance social networks have to them and worry about the negative aspects of social networks they read in the newspapers. With the high level of interaction elsewhere, there is a strong possibility that people who don’t grasp the power of social networks soon will be left behind

This possibility becomes even stronger when you realise that over the last year the percentage of active 18-24-year-old users has grown from 73% to 75%**. This is the next generation of entrepreneurs and company managers, a generation who will expect to interact online as well as face-to-face.

Here are ten simple things to think about before you join a social network, which will help you use them effectively, productively and securely.

 1. Why do you want to join a social network?

The first thing to look at before joining any social network is why you want to be there in the first place. What do you want to achieve and how will that particular network help you meet those objectives? This article might help you understand how to choose the right network for you.

I use different social networks for different reasons. For example, Twitter is primarily to engage regularly with my network and help people in my wider network understand more about what I do and who I do it for. It also helps people find out more about me before connecting, and see easily what other people say about me.

LinkedIn helps me track the connections in my network and generate referrals. Ecademy Blackstarmembers offer me support and advice.

Understanding your objectives helps you to cut through the baffling range of functionality on offer and focus on what is important, and relevant, to you.


2. To what do you need to commit to get results?

Just joining a social network won’t be enough, you need to be willing to participate, engage and be there for others. Be proactive, don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen.

How much time do you need to spend online? You might be surprised how little time you actually need to spend on social networking sites, particularly if your objectives are clear. It is far more effective to target your activity and engage in a focused way than spend too much time online, making a lot of noise but very little progress. If you spend too much time online people in your network will start wondering why you have so much time on your hands!

You do need to have a reasonable level of involvement however. Just putting up a profile and automatically sending content to all social networks will not be effective. Success on social networks is about the quality of your participation, not just presence.


3. Commit to being social

This is possibly the number one rule of social networking. It’s too easy to see sites like Facebook and Twitter as an opportunity to tell everyone what they can buy from you. But just like any networking event, most people haven’t logged in to buy. They want to engage in conversation and discussion, they want support and ideas, and they want to promote their own business or career.

Use social media wisely by developing relationships with people in your network, meeting new people and keeping in touch with old friends and colleagues. Show an interest in what they are doing, support them when they ask and share what they do with the rest of your network. They will then want to do the same for you.

If you engage effectively and show a constant interest in others, your online connections will be receptive when you do have something to share with them about your business or your needs. And they’ll be far more likely to respond and support you.


4. Protect your privacy

Fuelled, no doubt, by scaremongering in the mainstream media, many people shy away from social networks because of fears over their privacy. Not that such fears are unfounded. I’ve heard of websites that feature Facebook users who have publicised both their address and their absence from home, for example.

For a business person, however, many of these fears can be allayed with a certain amount of common sense. Don’t share any sensitive information on such sites. Check the privacy settings on each network you belong to and restrict who can see certain information. And let your friends and colleagues know where your boundaries are, asking them not to share anything that would be embarrassing or sensitive in any other way.

Many people are worried about sharing their network on LinkedIn with people who may start pitching those people. For me the answer is simple, don’t connect with people you don’t trust! The solution is often in your own hands.

5. What do you want your profile to say about you?

Spend some time getting your profile right. Don’t just write the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, put yourself in other people’s shoes. Knowing your objectives from membership, what do you need them to read to engage with them and for them to be in a position to help you?

Most people like to read profiles written in the first person, where they feel they are interactive with a human being, not a cold biography. And include a warm, yet professional, photograph, to engage people further.

Also include links to which people can go to find out more about your business, such as your website, blog and other social media profiles.

Andy Lopata
Labelled ‘Mr Network’ by The Sun, Andy Lopata was called ‘one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists’ by the Financial Times. The co-author of two books on networking, Andy‘s third book, ‘Recommended: How to Sell Through Networking and Referrals’ was published by Financial Times Prentice Hall in July 2011.

*Hitwise Intelligence – Robin Goad

**Analyst Speak – Tom Smith MD Global Web Index

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