Contrary to popular belief, LinkedIn is not the end-all be-all of professional relationship building on social media; in fact, LinkedIn may not even be your best option.
As you let that upended urban myth settle in, consider that if LinkedIn (or any other platform) is not where your prospects, customers, or industry peers reside, then it would be silly to look there for connections—it would be like looking for a tennis partner on Tinder. In order to build relationships through social media you must first identify which platforms are best for your business. Once you achieve that, you can then leverage your channels to start making connections.
Be strategic about who you want to connect with—look for your industry leaders and/or peers, people in your target market, and existing customers—and be sure to balance creating new relationships and maintaining existing ones. Rather than going into a friending frenzy and getting a quick 500-plus connections (which will just make you look desperate), first identify five people you’d like to build a relationship with. At the same time, reach out to five others whom you already know but haven’t been in touch with lately and reconnect. Once those 10 are taken care of, start on another set of connections, then wash, rinse, and repeat.
But I’m not here to talk about how to friend people–anyone can do that. I’m here to talk about how to nurture that social media relationship once the connection is already in place.
Here are some ways to use social media to create relationships for your small business:
Provide recommendations to become a resource
Have you ever seen the post in your social feed where someone’s looking for a recommendation? It goes something like this, “Looking to chow down on delicious Mexican food, what’s everyone’s favorite spot?”
You may not be selling Mexican cuisine, but the point is there are people every day on social media asking for recommendations for your product or service. If you meet these inquirers/potential customers at the source of their initial questions, you position yourself as a valuable resource and inquirers become a bit more inclined to convert from suggestion seeker to customer.
So start listening and meet them where they are! Get on your social channels and create relationships by monitoring keywords, hashtags, even competitor mentions, so that you can insert replies when necessary.
Join communities and groups to meet others with similar interest
When I say, “Join,” I don’t just mean click the join button and then be a non-contributing lurker. You don’t make friends at a party by being a wallflower, and the same is true online: The way you’ll create relationships is to post valuable/applicable content, comment, like, converse—be social!
Not only can you use the pool of members to gain new customers or leads, but you may also find other industry professionals who could be great to partner or collaborate with in the future.
Message influencers directly
You know that one person or business you can’t get enough of? That influencer who’s had such an impact on your work, but they have no idea you exist? It’s time to introduce yourself. Though it may seem awkward to reach out first, this isn’t He’s Just Not That Into You; if there is someone you want to connect with, just do it.
First follow/friend/connect with them, and then send them a message introducing yourself and express why you’re interested in connecting. Social media is much less formal than an email or phone call, so it’s not weird to reach out to someone you don’t know. The hardest part is putting yourself out there!
Don’t be afraid create interactions/conversations
If you want to create a relationship with someone you don’t know, but you feel like a direct message is too bold, try retweeting them, replying, commenting, liking posts, etc. Chances are if you join their conversation, that person is likely to get back to you if they see you’re engaged and have similar interests. Just don’t get overzealous liking and reposting every single post—you’ll come off like a stalker. It’s just like dating—coming on too strong makes you look crazy. It’s all about moderation people!
Here are some ways to use social media for small businesses to maintain relationships:
Use your social platform to answer customer service issues
While this may not seem like a relationship-building tactic, keeping your customers happy is the best way to keep them coming back. It’s kind of like having a best friend: their problem is your problem and you bond over a common issue. By fixing issues through social media, you will not only maintain your brand’s online reputation, but you’ll also maintain your good standing relationship with your customer.
Follow up with connections you already have
You wouldn’t leave a date that went really well and then never call that person again, would you? So then why would you do that to your network?
By reaching out periodically through social media to check in on how things are going, you’ll informally stay top-of-mind as an approachable connection. For example: “Hey I just saw you launched a new product, congratulations! What else have you been up to lately?” and then, “So glad we could catch up. If you ever need anything from my business let me know.”
Shout out vendors, partners, and contributors on your social platforms
Nothing gets people engaged like a nice ego stroking. By tagging or praising a partner in posts you achieve two things: you make them feel important, which will enhance future communications and experiences with them; and, you also give your followers and customers another resource they can tap into, which ultimately enriches their experience on your social channel and positions you as the expert.
Use social media as a listening tool
Stay on top of what your connections are doing through your social feeds and optimize opportunities to connect face to face. That’s right: eventually you’ll have to come out from behind that screen and meet someone in person!
One of the best ways to do this is by connecting with your network through travel. For example, if one of your connections just posted that they’ve just registered for a conference that you’ll also be attending, reach out and find a time when you’re both free to meet up. Though social media is its own kind of wonderful, nothing can replace face-to-face interactions.
Establishing and nurturing small business social media relationships isn’t that much different than tending to non-digital relationships: it requires time, effort, and a little bit of strategy.