In this post on social media engagement (which, appropriately, engaged many readers who shared their own ideas on engagement) we discussed “conversation-starters” to begin to get your network talking. Using polls, asking questions on Facebook or posting requests for feedback at the end of blog posts, which all may generate a good volume of responses, may seem counter-intuitive to forging relationships, but it's actually just the start.
There are three stages to optimizing your network. They will overlap, but your social media agency, social media assistant, or someone in your company charged with the task, needs to help you build the framework before the second two stages can begin. After that, they can all take place simultaneously.
1. Build a quality network.
You need people to engage with you and your content or the next two stages won't work. Your presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google + and whatever other platform you feel comfortable with sets the stage for growth. Your engagement has to be woven into your schedule on a regular basis in order for it to successfully work. Scheduling this activity may seem like overkill, but it provides a good measure of control in your time management efforts.
Once you begin building a quality network, though, keep those efforts going. Don't slow down. Add new people and continually cultivate - delete inactive connections or those only “broadcasting” about their own projects, add new topical areas of interest to your networking categories and consider new platforms if they are relevant for your purposes. It shouldn't be a pure numbers game - you are forever pruning to shape your network the way you envision it.
2. Start conversations.
Share quality content – both yours and other people's (preferably in a ratio that features more content from other people) and get people talking. Don’t impose any self-limiting thoughts about the correctness of your conversation-starter issues – as long as they are relevant to your focus and are created with the intent of honest engagement – just do it. You may surprise yourself when you elicit vibrant engagement on a topic for which you had low expectations.
3. Build deeper relationships.
It comes back to people. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was this: relationships are like bank accounts. You have to make frequent deposits in order to build a reserve. (To me – this is a trust reserve as measured in social currency.) You can’t be too excessive with your withdrawals or you’ll drain the account dry. (Too much “me” in your relationship and content focus.) You should reconcile the balance on a regular basis to ensure you’re managing things properly. (Take advantage of the analytic tools and pay attention to what they’re telling you - are you on-track or off-track - i.e. is the relationship growing?)
Relationships are two-way - you're sharing – whether it be ideas, information, inspiration, and even pleasantries. This is the time that you can ask about people's pets, their kids, their favorite sports team. After all, we're all people, and people have interests beyond their jobs. Find common ground and don't be afraid to share it -- as long as you're genuine.