How to Maximize Being “Connected” on Social Networking Sites

Imagine tapping into more than 35 million professionals in over 200 countries and territories worldwide for possible new sales leads, to gain insight from other industry colleagues about upcoming industry trends, and to simply connect with so many different options. This is the amazing reality of social media.

Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Digg offer you some top-notch professional and business connections that you would never be able to access otherwise. LinkedIn alone boasts these 35 million professionals. So more and more VARs are logging on and logging in to find, be introduced to, and connect with like-minded people to accomplish their business goals. You’ve no doubt heard of LinkedIn and these other social networking sites, and you’ve perhaps even created an account. You recognize the value of being involved in this viral network. Someone asks you if you’re LinkedIn or on Facebook and you say, “Sure.” But quietly think to yourself, “I’m not sure what I should be doing though.”

You’re not alone. So let’s take a look at some of the ways to maximize social networking to your advantage.

First, the network that you develop for yourself will consist of your connections, your connections’ connections, and the people they know, and so on and so on. It’s similar to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” where you are just a few connections away from key people. It’s the ultimate in networking, and you’re doing it virtually instead of at a Chamber of Commerce mixer or an annual meeting or trade show where you are limited by the physical attendees. In theory, you could be meeting future customers while lounging in your pajamas. Not only will you find partners and business opportunities, but they will find you too!

Now that you’ve set up your account, what do you do next?

1. Put on your sales hat and start selling you! The first step on any social networking site is to create an intriguing and informative profile about yourself and/or your business. Approach this like building an online resume, only you’re creating it within an already developed template. Start with four or five words that sell what you have to offer – let people know not only what you’ve done in your career, but also where you’re headed. One word of caution – don’t just cut and paste your resume into the profile field. It’s great to include that, but you must go beyond the standard resume. What are you passionate about? What are your core values? What makes your business different from your competitors? Why should customers choose you for their VAR? Social network sites elevate resume writing to the creative “self sell” it should be. You are sharing more than just your professional experience – you’re selling the whole package.

2. What details do you include? People do business with people so include a photo of yourself. Remember, a picture paints a thousand words so you’ll want to look professional but approachable in your photo. Lounging on your friend’s boat with an umbrella drink in your hand probably isn’t the best way to tell your story. But being in a stiff suit might not be either. Find a photo that you’re comfortable with and that speaks words about who you are as a professional VAR. Let people know how you want to be contacted. Do you prefer email? Maybe communicating through the social networking site for awhile works fine but do you want to communicate more directly? Or do you want people to call you out of the blue? Be specific about what’s acceptable (and what isn’t) for networking with you. The more honest you are about what you’re hoping to accomplish, the better your chances of connecting with like-minded people.

3. Start building your network. This could be “friends,” “connections” or other terminology depending on the social networking site. But the bottom line is, one connection usually leads to another as you build out your network farther and farther into this vast community. One good way to judge whether or not you want to make a connection with someone is to decide whether or not you would take a phone call from them during your busy day. If you would take the call, then invite that person into your fold. If you wouldn’t, you might want to think twice about the invitation.

4. Maximize the connections you make. Pose questions and answer others. Informed sources will chime in with their information. You become a resource for others. Recommend customers, vendors, and colleagues whom you know and ask them to do the same. Aren’t you more likely to do business with a vendor that is recommended to you by a trusted friend or business partner? The same rules apply here, too.

Of course, when you make yourself public, there are possible dangers and pitfalls to watch out for as well. People can spam and say negative things about you or your business. But that works both ways so never, ever leave negative feedback in public domain. You also might find “leads” on your doorstep that you don’t want or won’t fit within the network that you’re building. And lastly, don’t oversell and build yourself up too much.

The bottom line is that you have an amazing opportunity to develop connections and build quality leads and relationships in these communities. Using social networks will allow you to not only grow your business financially, but it will also enrich your business experience as you learn new and innovative ways to approach business from your peers.

A dedicated marketing professional, Michelle Kabele has been helping technology companies develop award-winning channel partner programs and marketing strategies for over 10 years. Michelle has worked extensively with small businesses throughout North America.

Michelle has an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Ill.)

PR Vs New Media

Many larger corporations, which have bottomless marketing budgets, incorporate massive public and media relations campaigns around new product launches, trends in the industry, and key story ideas. They “work the media,” feeding them a plate full of facts, figures, soundbites, and information in hopes of garnering the holy grail of the public relations world: the above-the-fold, front page story about their company.

Some companies use inside PR teams with directors, managers, coordinators, and interns. Others engage outside PR firms in order to craft the perfect press release, the pitch letter that an editor will drool over, or to wine and dine a group of reporters at the hippest restaurant and bar in SoHo or Chelsea. Working the media takes time and effort. It involves building tailored media lists, distributing press materials, and yes, meeting with the media and even taking them to lunch (a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it). It’s about nurturing one-on-one relationships that can sometimes take years – and money – to bear fruit.

I know, I know. You have no budget, time, or manpower for a massive PR campaign. I wouldn’t approach this topic if I didn’t have a solution here. The good news is that in today’s New Media world, the art of traditional public and media relations is changing. And it’s changing fast and for the better for small, but successful VARs like you. So I’m offering up a few tips on how to get your PR effort going without taking the traditional route.

Social media is quickly becoming a core element of communications and PR plans, which is great for you – simply because these new media tools are easy to use, don’t demand a lot of manpower, and are economical. How great is that? Blogging, social networks, and podcasts reach more customers and influencers of your product than traditional media might and require almost no out-of-pocket investment. Plus, once you take a little time to get familiar with these channels, it’s so easy to utilize them to your advantage!

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “When it comes to generating goodwill between a company, its customers, and prospects – the very essence of public relations – it’s a buyer’s market for small businesses.” For instance, one small business cut loose their PR firm which had been receiving a $6,500 monthly retainer, and replaced them with a $700-a-month line item in their budget for website maintenance. Using their up-to-date database, they began sending weekly email blasts to VIP customers and friends – again, at no cost. The results? The small company’s best PR efforts came from communicating directly with their existing customers and friends, who then forwarded those email blasts on to their friends. Special email newsletters included targeted information geared toward hitting those touchpoints that the company knew would grab the attention of its customers. They gave their customers what they wanted through links to the website and easy access to valuable information.

News “flashes” are also easy to incorporate into your PR program and search engines love them. When written thoughtfully, using keywords and phrases, and in paragraph format – one paragraph for content and one paragraph about your business – search engines will pick up on these flashes and reward you with a higher ranking in searches for your business or product. Create a “news” section on your website where these flashes can call home. Search engine crawlers visit sites that are constantly changed and that are dynamic. When crawlers see that you update your “news” section frequently, and you have carefully crafted your news to include your keywords, you quickly find that these pages will receive high rankings.

Of course, landing a feature story about your latest product in a Top 20 national newspaper (e.g., USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times) or being included in a segment on Oprah or The Today Show is worth way more than its weight in gold, but so is going directly to the world – literally – and to the newswire yourself. The Web is allowing smart VARs like you to engage with the public without the mainstream press or the PR flak who court it. With new media resources, like YouTube and Flickr, you can now deliver unedited messages in your own voice and image instead of leaving it to the press to report the story they way they think it should be told. Or you can create short videos or podcasts for your own site for customers and potential leads to download and watch. Here, you can craft your own message and become “the expert” in your field. The same holds true for blogging. Start offering some of your insightful wisdom on new trends. Customers – and search engines – and sometimes even the traditional media will come to view you as the resource in your industry. The trick is to learn to use these tools without sounding too commercial in your pitches or offerings, and then enjoy the benefits of well-crafted viral marketing take hold.

A dedicated marketing professional, Michelle Kabele has been helping technology companies develop award-winning channel partner programs and marketing strategies for over 10 years. Michelle has worked extensively with small businesses throughout North America.

Michelle has an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Ill.)

Free Publicity With Press Releases

An effective strategy for free publicity is to write and send press releases. A press release, sometimes called a news release or media release, is an announcement of something important.

Here are 5 key points for a good press release so that the one your send will get read and distributed.

First you need to write a great headline. I say great because you need to attract the attention of a reporter or editor and you have lots of competition. Be sure to put the topic in the headline so that it contains some key words and can get the attention of Google.

Secondly, make sure your story is newsworthy to an audience that is bigger than your niche. That means the story needs to be current and appealing. Trendy would even be better.

The third important point is to avoid jargon and techno babble. The media does not have time to figure this out and neither do your readers.

Just in case it should slip your mind, do not make the press release a blatant advertisement.

And finally, make sure your press release is well written. If you are not a good writer, then hire someone to do the writing for you.

Before you start writing the press release, make sure you have all the pertinent information for the announcement. You need to give what every journalist wants: the who, where, when and how.

Then figure out what are the appropriate media outlets to send your press release.

You can write press releases with any of the following strategies for creating a hook so that the reporter or editor will certainly want to read your press release. These strategies are using a controversy, survey or research results. What also works well are announcements about an award, announcing a new position, a new blog, and a new website. Press releases can get fairly boring without a good hook.

Social Media Releases is gaining popularity and visibility. Some view it as an alternative to traditional web sites. Social Media Releases are similar to traditional releases except they reach more people.

Social Media Releases are often linked to Social Networks and when that network discusses your topic, you are likely to be very successful getting the attention of hundreds in the forum. As the name implies, Social Media Releases focus on the social aspect of information. There are also social media newsrooms where you can post your releases. Make sure your keywords are written in the press release.

The directories for news releases, most of which are free but some will charge. Fees may range from $80 a release to $1000 for an annual membership.

And I invite you to claim your free Special Report on Building Your Online Empire as well as a recording of this information, by visiting http://www.InternetBusinessBuildingGuide.com and get started right away with building a profitable online business. Connie Ragen Green has been teaching people how to use their writing to get started on the internet since 2006, as well as how to use the technology needed to be successful on the internet.