Many people mistakenly think of social media as only a platform to stay in touch with strong ties, such as family and close friends. For B2B networking, the power of social media lies much more with weak ties rather than strong ties. Weak ties can be friends of friends, connections of connections, people you have met once at a networking event, etc. In Clara Shih’s excellent book The Facebook Era, Shih claims that our weak ties carry the greatest amount of social capital. “We are most often hiring, getting hired by, and closing deals not with our best friends and family members, but with acquaintances, friends of friends, and people we have just met.”
So how do we leverage the power of these weak ties? Most small business owners and entrepreneurs are professional networking machines. However, when it comes to complementing these efforts with online networking, they typically fall short. After any networking event, usually the business cards collected by a networker are thrown in the trash or collect dust in a desk drawer. Almost all of these business cards are weak ties and should be leveraged. Entrepreneurs need a social media connection process to practice after all personal and professional networking events.
For every weak tie you meet who is worth knowing long-term, automatically connect with them on LinkedIn. This should become habit! The morning after a networking event when you’re gathering all of the collected business cards out of your suit pocket or purse, make sure to connect with them! If you don’t have the time, have an assistant or account executive take over. The power of face-to-face networking is more in the follow up than the initial conversation.
Facebook follow up connections can be a little more complex than a LinkedIn connection. People tend to be more guarded and personal on their Facebook profiles than their LinkedIn accounts. There is typically more value in a Facebook connection than in a LinkedIn connection, even on a professional level, because most people are on Facebook 2 to 3 times more than LinkedIn. People check their Facebook newsfeed more to see what their friends and family are doing so it’s an excellent way for your firm to stay “top of mind” with news items and valuable content.
So how do you approach a Facebook connection? A good rule of thumb is to only connect with people on Facebook who appear to be more social media literate. Typically younger professionals (under 40) are comfortable with weak tie connections on their Facebook account. You can make a gut judgment just by their personality at the networking event. Do they appear more reserved or conservative? If yes, then do not invite on Facebook and stick to LinkedIn. If they are gregarious and open, no matter what their age is, invite them on Facebook. The worst they can do is say no.
Now that you are building a portfolio of connections, how do you open doors and build relationships through these social media connections? If you have monthly sales meetings, it’s a good practice for each staff member to identify 1-2 firms to target that fit your company’s ideal customer profile. By doing this, you can identify at least 10 new firms to target. Many of the ideas will come from business journals, advertising, etc. With that list, look to your social media connections. Type in each company name and determine which strong or weak ties are connected to them. Then determine which tie is the strongest. This can be done on both LinkedIn and Facebook.
Instead of initiating an introduction or referral through the social media platform, I advise to send a direct email to the tie and ask for an email connection. First, ask how well they know the person and would they be comfortable in making an introduction. The purpose of the introduction is not to immediately discuss your firm’s product or service but to speak with them and determine if each can help the other’s business.
If you identify 10 connections a month and average a 50% connection rate, you will be making connections with 5 new ideal customers/connections a month simply through strong and weak ties on social media platforms. Social media and online networking will help bolster your face-to-face networking and dramatically increase the quality and quantity of business connections you make each month.