Online social networking sites have taken business networking to a new level. Often, people find that using social networking sites makes it easy to stay in touch with business contacts. These sites make it simple to reconnect with people you've lost track of. And they provide a natural way to expand your circle of contacts by establishing relationships with friends of friends.
Many business people put the popular, general social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to good use. Other sites, such as LinkedIn, offer social networking targeted more to business connections. Ryze, Ning, Meetup and other Web sites provide business-oriented social networking and help professionals develop their own networks online. Some people also make good use of blogs -- their own, or someone else's -- for networking.
Business executives recognize the value of social networking. Some have even started their own networks. General Electric, for example, recently started MarkNet to link its 5,000 marketing professionals around the world [source: Liguori].
Social networking sites can be valuable. They help you reach out to people at your convenience, without having to attend events or meetings. Communicating on Facebook or LinkedIn is a lot less stressful than trying to strike up a conversation with someone you barely know. These sites make it easy to connect with people no matter where they are. They can be a good way to get the word out about developments in your business.
But good business networking shouldn't begin and end with online social networking. Those who study such things say that social networking sites enhance but don't replace face-to-face networking. Follow-up is important. Relationships must be nurtured.
If all you do is tweet about yourself or your business on Twitter, or post about yourself or your products on Facebook, you're not going to accomplish much. People may think you're self-centered and ignore you. Having hundreds of online "friends" doesn't mean much, either. A network isn't worth much if it isn't built on a genuine relationship and mutual trust.
To be worth the time and effort, business networking must produce results. Networking should help you reach your business goals. If that's going to happen, you need to keep in mind some basic networking guidelines, whether you're networking in the flesh or in cyberspace.
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