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Top tips for professional networking online

Many articles on social media will tell you how to find customers and engage with them. Whilst this is an important part of social media, another use is to grow and maintain your professional network. In this article we’ll look at how you can use social media to boost your company’s profile with other business owners.

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Find a network that suits your business

The most popular site for professional networking is LinkedIn, though many companies also use Twitter for this purpose too.
 
As well as the dedicated social media sites, there are also sector-specific social media sites and many general business forums that you may want to explore.
 

Update your profile

Your professional profile, be it on LinkedIn, on your website or on any other social network is out there for anyone to look at. It could be the first time someone hears about you, so it's your chance to make a good first impression.
 
Be brief, but get your best selling points – and those of your company – across. Use this profile consistently across all sites you frequent. You may need to change the length depending on word counts, so start with a 250 word description and then edit it as necessary.
 
Also make sure that it's regularly updated. A profile that was last updated three years ago sends out a bad impression about you and your business.
 

Join communities and groups

The best way to find like-minded business owners is to join online groups and Forums that represent common interests. For example, the Forum of Private Business has a LinkedIn group where you can meet and talk with other members and small-business owners in the UK.
 
Be an active participant. Post questions, start discussions and respond to others' posts. Remember to be polite and respectful at all times, even if you don't agree with someone's point of view.
 

Be helpful

Like face-to-face networking, the aim of online networking is to appear knowledgeable and helpful. Promote useful articles or interesting reports that you've written. This demonstrates knowledge and expertise far more than just listing what you know.
 

Ask for referrals

If you'd like to make a professional contact but they don't know who you are, don't go in there cold. Twitter is a bit more relaxed, you could follow the person and send them a message to introduce yourself, but on LinkedIn and other professional networks things are a bit different.
 
Unsolicited requests to join a person's network are very often deleted straight away. Find out if they have any common connections and ask them to introduce you. If you don't but you still want to get in touch with that person, send them a message explaining how you think you can help them. Do NOT just use the standard LinkedIn ‘I'd like to add you to my professional network' text.
 

Act professionally

Although social media has added a new, friendlier dimension to doing business, that doesn't mean you should let standards of etiquette you'd expect at a face-to-face networking meeting slip. Remember, you're representing your business and what you say online can stay round for a long time.
 
Members of the Forum can access a marketing advice service - email askmarketing@fpb.org to find out more - and a free guide to using social media
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