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  • Diana Schneidman

Does social networking work for your freelance / consulting market?

As you build your solopro practice, perhaps as a freelancer or consultant, you are most likely aware that experts recommend social networking—especially Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter—to build a Know, Like, Trust relationship with your market.

This is assuredly excellent advice . . . if you take note of the last three words: with your market.

As you develop a deeper understanding of who your “right people” are, luring these people into your space certainly is a smart move.

Sounds logical, right?

But many people who imagine themselves to be marketers avoid any sort of strategic considerations, seeing this as cold and calculating.

Well, yes, analysis is calculating. But that doesn’t make it evil or manipulative. It’s common sense, when you think about it.

Before you invest hours in building your presence, investigate if your market participates in these social networks. The narrower the market you claim, the more important this consideration is. You won’t connect with the right people if there’s very few of them who participate.

Here’s how to do it:

First, clarify who your market is. If you serve a business market, you’ve made great strides in determining who they are, even to choosing specific keywords.

(And if you have made little progress in this determination, don’t go overboard in social networking bouts. They’re okay for testing and even enjoyment, but an intensive campaign to connect with people is premature before you know who you are connecting with.)

Now that you have the group, select a few individuals—by name—to research online and gauge their participation.

If you are looking for freelance and consulting assignments in companies (which is what I recommend, since corporations usually have more money to pay your fees than do one-person concerns), choose one or two people to start with. And if you are looking for work similar to what you did on your last good job—which I heartily recommend—start by researching the individuals who would hire you for your services if you asked at your old employer. That’s probably your former boss!

Start with LinkedIn and see how many connections they have. A corporate employee with any sort of tenure and reasonable networking skills should have at least 200 and maybe even 500+ connections. Even if they have retained the same position for decades, they have met quite a few individuals with whom to network as they have worked with others who have swapped jobs and moved among field offices, taken part in industry organizations and met with suppliers, customers, consultants, etc.

If they have fewer than 50, they signed up with LinkedIn on a whim and are not developing their account. Maybe they are too busy with their jobs to stay involved; they may even detest it as a waste of time.

This means that trying to network online with these people won’t go anywhere.

Sure, looking at only or two individuals can distort reality, but this is a red flag.

Search a few other names who may be in a position to hire for your specialty. Then search for LinkedIn industry groups to see who is taking part and if they are your right people.

If no one you’d contact for possible assignments is showing up, take notice. Don’t persist with lots of social networking because others claim it is the secret. Secret to what? They don’t know your industry. They are talking in generalities.

If your leads are not on LinkedIn, give Twitter a try. Twitter isn’t so pigeonholed as a networking tool for professionals, but it’s rather trendy among certain demographics. And better still, once you find the person, it’s easy to look at their profile and see exactly how they use Twitter.

If they only tweet chatter and jokes and opinions on reality TV, and if they don’t appear to follow others in your industry, no use trying to engage them in conversation towards strategically building your business community.

Then there’s Facebook, the biggest social network of all. See if your prospects (or clients) belong, but don’t stop there. Check out what they are doing on Facebook.

Because if they only “friend” family or old classmates or fellow Farmville players, it’s doubtful they will want to mull over professional concepts online.

Lots and lots of people are on Facebook (hundreds of millions to be a little more precise), but that lofty estimate doesn’t automatically mean that your strategic market wants to Know, Like and Trust you as a business associate via this channel.

So do your research—and don’t place your trust in what “they” say over what you observe—in deciding whether to invest your marketing effort in social networking.

Originally posted 11-23-10

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