Online networking can lead to local results for you and your company.

Online networking can lead to local results for you and your company.

This first in a series of four articles will detail the initial steps in converting online efforts to local results. The end result of your time spent in reading all four segments will be the development of a road map for building a strategy for you and your company. It is a safe bet that your work is this area will separate you from your competition!

At the time of this writing, your author is involved in approximately 6 active and growing online social networks. Most of these are in the areas of business and entrepreneurship. The underlying theme of most of the networks was the provision of a "social" connection in the initial design. Through the development of online tools for connecting diverse individuals together, the sites have slowly become absolute necessities for some aspects of personal branding and building an online presence.There is a plethora of evidence associated with the fact that most people conduct online research prior to making a decision regarding the purchase of any product or service. You can check out the data easily enough through MarketingSherpa.com, ClickZ.com or BNet.com or other online resources. What does this have to do with the premise of my article and the series? Everything!

If you, your company, or your product or service are going to be researched online prior to someone "pulling the trigger" would you not want to control as much of the resulting information as possible? Would you also want to manage to some degree the dollars spent in managing the results? Would you also like to grow the network of available prospects and relationships you need to grow your business through the use of the same online resources?  I am sure you are interested in all of these things. There are four key areas we are going to deal with in this series. Number one will be the identification of appropriate online venues for exposure to you and your company. When we have flushed out some potential arenas for you to work in, we will then move to our second consideration.

The development of "Profiles" and their role in identifying who you and your company are, the history you wish to reflect and the message you desire the world to receive. Thirdly, we will discuss your contributions to the networks. What is it that you desire the group to know about your company, you, your areas of expertise, your views, and your company’s strength. Finally we will discuss the sustaining of these profiles, the content, and the day to day management of your online identity.The first quarter of 08 marked a significant event in the life of online messages, video, social networks, and what it all should mean to you. In February, a couple of passengers were escorted off a Southwest aircraft for unruly behavior. The official message offered by Southwest, took place, not at a press conference, not at their corporate headquarters, not even on their corporate website. Southwest made their public response and policy statement on youtube.com. What are the implications for you? Southwest knows as do millions of others that when you want an audience, you go where the audience is. Not overly complicated. Southwest knows the traffic numbers of youtube.com, Google video, myspace.com, and any other number of social networking sites assures them their response will be seen. As a matter of fact, if you Google, i.e. search online terms as nebulous as "southwest", "unruly", "passengers" you will see the top two results on Google will be the youtube.com video uploads.

Your selection of appropriate online networks is important. Video is important. Content is vital. The community you serve is most important. Who is your customer? Where do your prospects hang out online? Southwest knows that they don't have a narrow rifle shot type of demographic they are seeking. They have millions of different passengers, stockholders, and employees. Youtube.com uploads and corporate identity development in that area makes great sense.Let's talk about what your considerations are on a local level. Do you want to share expertise? Do you need to grow "relationship capital"? Do you need more people to simply know who you are? How does all of this happen? Some important suggestions would start with some great online groups through Yahoo or Google. You should investigate whether or not your community paper or radio stations have online communities that they are beginning to build. On a local level, our primary print media paper, owned by Gannett recently revamped their online newspaper offering to include a social network. As a result, our company immediately built an online profile and provided some content concerning who we are and what we do. Within one hour, we had an inquiry regarding our core private equity business. Many of these online communities don't have huge traffic yet but there are connections being made if you cultivate the online community like you would a Chamber membership list or a business networking event list.

Other significant ways to immediately begin growth of local visibility is to utilize online networks that are specific to your industry. Start by looking at meetup.com, linkedin.com, fastpitchnetworking.com or social network blogs. Once you have found appropriate online sites you will want to opt in. Generally all of the sites are free to belong to with a nominal fee to utilize their complete tool sets. Meetup.com, for example, allows the joining of limitless meetups at no charge and with a fee of just $45.00 per quarter you could elect to organize up to three meetups in your local area. Linkedin and FastPitch have free and very capable versions with upgrades that will lead to local connections.

Start your identification of online networks with a review of "Who, What, Where, and How" you want to be seen and discovered online.

Next in our series will be a discussion of building great online profiles. These profiles are analogous to biological profiles. The thread you begin to build will become your online DNA. The author has made mistakes that sometimes jeopardize his online profile. We will discover those together in article number two.

Sherman Mohr serves the entrepreneurial community through consulting for Castle Venture Group, a Private Equity firm based in Brentwood, Tennessee.

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