Here are 8 ways to strike up social media conversations with people you want to meet:
#1: Boil the Frog
There’s an old wives’ tale (some truth to it), that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will sense the heat and jump out. But put a frog in cool water and turn up the heat slowly and the frog will hardly notice.
When reaching out online to people you’d like to meet, don’t come on like gangbusters. Nothing screams “jump out of the hot pot” more than a blatant “let’s talk so I can sell you something” message.
Start cool and warm up slowly. Comment on their blog post. Retweet them thoughtfully. Compliment something they wrote. Become familiar to someone—even if they don’t engage you right away—and it’s more likely that they’ll engage you in the future.
For example, this person wrote to me personally, said something pleasant and left it there. Nice start!
Dr. Rachna Jain, who studies the psychology of social media, says, “When people see you more, they like you more. The shorthand is that familiarity breeds likeability. Especially if you’re seen as giving them value or good content or information.”
#2: Givers Gain
The world of social media changes faster than the Clippers change coaches. But some things never change—like the golden rule of networking (social or otherwise).
The golden rule? Givers gain. (Bet you figured that out from the section header.)
As Dr. Jain said, “…especially if you’re seen as giving them value or good content or information.” How? Share a white paper. Share a relevant piece of research. Invite them to a private local business event.
Remember, starting relationships can take many touches. Do this right, and people will perceive you as valuable even before you interact with them personally (which we’re getting to), and you boil the frog at the same time.
#3: Make Henry Kissinger Proud
There’s an old story that’s been told and retold about how Henry Kissinger approached getting the best out of his staff. Before reviewing anything from his people, he’d ask, “Before I look at this… is it your best work?“, and the staff would go back and keep working until they could say yes.
When reaching out through social media, give it your Henry Kissinger effort.
As president of a company and publisher of a reader publication (RainToday), we have about 150,000 subscribers and followers. And they reach out to me fairly regularly and want to connect.
Many of them remain strangers because they made no effort to relate to me. A standard, “my products would be of value” overture does not catch anyone’s attention. No personalization… no genuine connection. Even something better than bad would be good.
But every once in a while, someone reaches out with real effort, energy and thoughtfulness—the kind that would make Henry Kissinger proud. Here’s an example of how one gentleman started a conversation:
This example goes on with several more paragraphs explaining our connections and reasons for why we might both be interested in connecting. This contact effort was obviously customized and it resonated well with me.
#4: Be Brave
Call reluctance is common on the phone. It happens online, too. People don’t reach out online because of some kind of fear. “They won’t respond.” “They’ll say no.” “They’ll be angry with me.”
The fact of the matter is most customers believe salespeople don’t reach out enough. In the online world, there’s a heavy emphasis on the concept of inbound marketing. I think inbound marketing is a great approach. But that doesn’t mean proactive outreach—the online equivalent of cold-calling is either dead or bad. (By the way, cold-calling isn’t dead. See the research in Bloomberg Business Week from 2007. The 2010 study revealed the same thing.)
When you find a particular person you want to connect with, reach out.
As long as you keep points 1, 2 and 3 in mind, you’ll be fine. As business guru Wayne Gretzky said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Be brave. Take shots.
#5: Be Positive and Pleasant
When some people gear up their bravery for outreach, they think, “I’m about to reach out to a big-time person. I need to seem big time too!” So they puff out their chest and brag about how awesome they are.
Who made the rule that “important” people should be temperamental and full of themselves? Not endearing. I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with lots of guru types and most of them are pleasant and humble.
Don’t try to come off as the BMOC. The fastest way to come off as inconsequential is to keep saying how influential you are.
Todd Schnick says it so well:
“Actions make you influential. Not your words or tweets. People who serve, people who help others, people who share the cool things that others are doing… those are the actions that make you influential.”
Right on, Todd.
#6: Prepare for Window Shopping
When you reach out to people, expect that they’ll check you out. When someone writes to me and I’m curious, the first thing I do is Google and see what comes up.
Make sure when the people reaching out to you search for you online, you’re portrayed exactly how you want to be. Determine how your personal brand and online reputation come across, as they’ll greatly affect people’s impressions of you.
#7: Let Your Personality Shine Through
People build relationships with people they like. If you want to build relationships, be endearing. And the best way to do that? Let your personality shine through.
Boring is forgettable. Personality is memorable. And social media outlets are the perfect place for you to be yourself.
For example, in my research for this piece, I came across articles by Amy Porterfield. I visited her website, and saw her nifty little description of herself:
I BELIEVE in:
- Hard work, but that you have to be able to throw it all away for love and family.
- No drama. Really… not even a little!
- Acceptance. No judgment lives here.
- Wearing my heart on my sleeve.
- Embracing whatever’s next.
- But most of all, I believe that social media should be something you enjoy, not dread, every day.
No drama. Not even a little. I love it!
Now that’s letting your personality shine through.
#8: Take It Offline, When It’s Time
Social media outlets are great places for starting conversations, but they’re not the only place to have them. When the time is right, take the conversation offline.
You can start with a phone call or go right to face-to-face (assuming you’ve boiled your frog correctly). In any case, take the leap.
Selling is a contact sport. After you’ve begun your conversation and built rapport, find a good reason to take the conversation offline and see where it takes you.
And a little bonus…
There are so many social media tools available now it can be difficult to keep up. Here are a handful of tools that are helpful for lead generation and sales:
- Google Alerts and Twitter Alerts help you find reasons to create conversations by following trigger events.
- SocialToo can help you keep track of new and lost followers.
- GeoChirp is good if you need to focus on a specific geography.
- TubeMogul can help you spread the word with video.
- Twellow finds people you’re looking for with a sort of Yellow Pages for Twitter.
- SproutSocial helps if you’re getting serious about this whole thing. And, of course, the three biggies: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
One last thought—selling is a big topic. There are so many approaches to succeeding with selling. I think about sales a lot, but I don’t have a corner on the best ideas by a long shot.