For many small businesses, updating their social media profiles can feel like talking to an empty room. In most cases, they are. Social media has been hyped as the holy grail of marketing and lead generation for a decade. What gives?

social media for networking

Connecting with and building an audience around a product, service, or brand is a near-impossible task. Few brands are inherently so great and unique that they’d attract large groups of dedicated fans. Of course, that’s not really what you’re trying to do. What businesses need on social media is people who share their interests. A productive social media presence that generates leads and provides a positive experience to customers is within reach for any business. The secret isn’t about getting the right software, or buying enough followers, but rather about building relationships.

Be a brand representative

Many businesses fall into the trap of only trying to use their brand to represent their people, instead of also using their people to represent their business. This is tempting, because it allows businesses to consolidate their authority without relying on the clout of employees who might not stay forever. There’s a problem with this, however, because trying to humanise your logo on social media in a way that’ll actually reach people is not a good way to get traction in the first place. People don’t empathise with abstract entities, and they certainly don’t want to engage with a faceless logo that might have a different unknown person standing behind it every other day.

Instead, you or your social media manager needs to represent your business as a real person. Followers need to know who they’re actually communicating with to feel a real human connection. That doesn’t mean tossing your official branded accounts out the window, but rather being strategic about how you use them.

For example, an official branded twitter account is the perfect tool for press releases, announcements, and promotions. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a social interaction, you’d be better served using your professional twitter account with your name, face, company, and position prominently displayed on it. By showing yourself as a real person, you get the opportunity to directly network with potential and existing customers.

Play to the strengths of social media

Different types of social media are differently well suited to specific industries. All of them, however, are designed for building connections and networking. The primary purpose of social media is not to post your blog content, to make announcements, or to simply amplify third party industry content. Rather, it’s about interaction and active, live communication.

To reach your audience, you’ll need to do more than post relevant content, use the proper hashtags, and hope that people respond. Instead, you need to find existing conversations and get involved. Social media is, in effect, a never-ending networking event. It doesn’t revolve around your business or your products, but around shared interests and the relationships you can build over them. By focusing on building those relationships, you can expand your network and reach new potential leads.

Don’t overreach

Business owners, like anyone, like to see results as quickly as possible. We look at our competitors’ successful webinars, online networking events, promotions, quizzes, and other outreach efforts, and we want to do the same. More importantly, we want to do it right now. This over-eager attitude is the reason so many small business twitter, instagram, and facebook feeds are filled with well-written posts and promotions that have absolutely no engagement.

Outreach efforts like these provide a virtual venue around which followers and other users can network with you, and often each other. To be successful, you need to be able to address the interactive and social imperative of social media first, so that users can gain social capital by engaging with you and associating themselves with your brand. Without that social drive, your campaign will never take off, and you won’t be able to reach your audience.

To deal with this, you need to take the time to lay the groundwork. Reach out and interact with industry professionals, current clients, and other relevant figures on a regular basis. Build relationships, and become a part of the existing community that your business belongs to. These people will be the ones who will comment on your posts and share your promotions, even if they don’t become customers. The leverage they provide is ultimately what will help you reach and gain the trust of your target audience.

Getting traction and effectively generating leads on social media requires a strategy, preparation, sustained human effort, and patience. However, it doesn’t require a team of marketers, an endless budget, or fancy software. Approach your social media accounts with a focus on building your business’ professional network over simply selling a product, and you’ll find your new leads far more easily.