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How Mobile Marketing is Changing the Face of Events

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s post comes from Adam Hope.

‘Mobile marketing’ Image Credit: Osman Kalkavan

‘Mobile marketing’ Image Credit: Osman Kalkavan

In today’s increasingly mobile world, more and more marketers are focusing their activity primarily at mobile users. According to research from mobiThinking, there are over 2 billion people using a 3G or 4G mobile phone network. That means nearly 30% of the world’s population has access to high-speed mobile internet – and this percentage increases dramatically among business users and those living in developed nations. Data from eMarketer predicts that by 2017, 50% of the world’s mobile phone users will be using a smartphone with access to the internet and mobile apps.

Keeping up with the mobile trend

Mobile marketing is nothing new, businesses have been creating mobile friendly websites and using social media to reach their on-the-go audience for years. However, as with all technology, the industry is constantly evolving as new hardware and software are developed. These developments are aimed at enhancing the mobile experience for the user and are giving mobile marketers an increasing number of channels through which to reach their customers.

Mobile marketing at events

One key area of growth in the mobile marketing world, is the use of targeted activities to connect with customers at events. Whether it’s creating a pre-event buzz, managing the duration of the event or keeping in touch afterwards, mobile technology offers countless possibilities for customer engagement. Event marketing is rarely a fixed location affair, with businesses travelling to meet their target customers’ locational convenience and, as such, mobile marketing and event marketing make a well suited pair.

Creating a social buzz

The event marketer’s job starts long before the actual date of the event and mobile marketing is a great channel through which to build pre-event hype. Social media and mobile friendly email campaigns are a fantastic way to reach your pre-existing audience, giving them an early introduction to an upcoming event.

In order to have a wider mobile reach and grow your audience prior to the event, research influential local retweeters and sharers alongside complementary businesses in the location of your upcoming event. Get them to share your event information by building a relationship with these people and asking them to share information which may be of interest to their followers.

During the event

There has been an emerging trend in the creation of custom event apps. Businesses are either creating an app specifically for an event or expanding their pre-existing mobile app to include the event. This offers the ultimate convenience to the customer – putting all of the essential event information in their fingertips. Apps also provide great brand exposure as your business’ branding is installed on the customer’s phone, keeping your message fresh in their mind, as they use their mobile device.

Make it as easy as possible for your audience to access further information on your business, product or service at your event. Direct customers to your social media accounts by including information on how to find you online in your printed display materials. The use of QR codes has had a varying success rate, allowing mobile users to scan a code with their smartphones camera which takes them directly to your site. The more mobile channels through which your target audience can access further information, the better.

The use of geotagging at events is extremely valuable to businesses as it shares your attendees’ location with their friends, having a visible knock-on effect on social media. Ensure your event’s social pages are set up in a way which allows attendees to ‘check-in’ to your location.

The post-event social sweep up

The success of an event is generally measured by examining post-event data, whether it’s the number of leads generated or the level of attendee engagement. Social media is a great way to follow up your event and give attendees a specific #hashtag that they can use when sharing images or comments socially, during or after your event. This makes it easy for businesses to track any mentions and gather a general overview of the event’s success.

Industry trends predict clear growth in the use of smartphones as people’s primary access to the internet. It is clear that successful event marketers will need to shift their focus to ensure that their events are fully integrated with mobile communications in order to ensure future success.

Adam HopeAdam Hope is a blogger for The Events Structure – the UK’s largest single source provider of road show exhibition trailers and mobile event marketing vehicles. We provide versatile event venues for exhibitions, one off events and marketing roadshows. These range from inflatable pop-up structures to fully customizable exhibition trailers. We work with a variety of large and small businesses to promote their products at events around the UK. Our self-drive promotional vehicles offer the ideal economical solution for small businesses looking to make a big impact.

 

Why Social Media is a Must for all Companies

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Margaret Dawson– Enjoy!
Why social media is a must for all companies

While younger demographic groups are higher users, all ages are on social media. Source: comScore

Social media is all around us and has become a daily part of people’s lives.

As of this month, there are nearly 650 million Twitter users, posting some 58 million tweets every day.  Facebook is even bigger, with 1.4 billion users, spending 700 billion minutes on the network every month.  In the United States, 58% of the population use at least one social network, and that number leaps to 98% for those aged 18 to 24 years old.

And yet, I still have organizations or consultants tell me, “my customers aren’t really on social media.”

Your customers ARE on social media

Unless your customers live under a rock and do not have Internet access or a smartphone, you should assume they are on social media.  In fact, according to research by the University of California Berkeley, some 80% of respondents use the Internet to research information on a product or service they want to buy, and increasingly, that’s on social media networks, no Google search.

Using social media to reach your customers and tell your story is no longer an “if” but a “must have”.

But where do you start and how do you figure out which social media channels to use?  You will want a plan. The only thing worse than not being there at all is creating a profile and having zero content or information.  In this case, build it and they will come doesn’t work.

Top 8 steps to get you started

  1. Research which social network your customers use most and start with the top one: If your customers are mostly consumers, then Facebook is a must have and a good starting place. If you are a B2B product or service, then start with Twitter.  One fast way to figure out where to start is to research where your top competitors have a presence and make sure you are in the conversation.
  2. Build a great profile:  As you build your first profile, make sure you are following best practices.  Each social network provides helpful guides and suggestions, and if you don’t have the time or staff, then hire someone to do this for you.
  3. Develop compelling content: Content is king on social media.  Spend some time researching your competition or market leaders to determine what type of content is driving the best engagement and follower growth. If you don’t know what to write or don’t have the resources, look to getting expert help from a social consultant or agency.
  4. Grow your follower base:  In spite of what some people say, growing followers should always be a case of quality over quantity. Think of your followers as leads. You should be able to do this organically or at a very low cost.
  5. Measure, analyze and adapt:  As you start building out your presence and community, make sure you are using data to determine what’s working and what’s not and track your progress.  You want to do initial baseline metrics, and then continue to use data to improve how you are engaging and adding followers.
Why social media is a must for all companies

Use metrics to set a baseline and track progress. Here’s an example of consumer soda brands on Twitter. Source: Rival IQ

  1. Increase frequency of content: Once you know what type of content works best with your followers, try doing more. But be clear on how different social networks require very different levels of frequency. On Twitter, work up to 10 posts a day. For Facebook, 1 or 2 a day is usually fine. Use these numbers as a guideline, as dach market is slightly different. Experiment with post frequency, while always measuring, to determine what works best for you, and look for tools to help you find great content and schedule posts, like Hootsuite or Buffer.
  2. Do targeted follower campaigns: As you work to build out your social community, look into targeted follower campaigns. Again, your goal is NOT just quantity, but using filters, comparables and research to build a relevant base of users who would be interested in what you have to say and sell.
  3. Rinse & Repeat with the next social channel:  From there, you will want to look at other channels based on the market and your product. While it’s tempting to think you must be everywhere, it’s better to have a great presence on one or two channels then a mediocre or bad presence on many.

Of course, this is overly simplified, and each of these steps takes hard work.  But it gives you an idea of how to move down the vital path of social media.

Margaret DawsonA 20-year tech industry veteran, Margaret is known for taking people, teams, brands and companies to the next level through creativity, awesome positioning and messaging, coaching and hard work.  She is a proven entrepreneur and intrapreneur, having led successful programs and teams at several startups and Fortune 500 companies. Margaret is Chief Marketing Officer for Rival IQ. Prior to this, she was Vice President of Product Marketing and Cloud Evangelist for the cloud computing division of Hewlett-Packard. She’s a frequent author and sought-after speaker on subjects such as marketing analytics, big data, cloud computing, women in tech and the convergence of technology and business. She is also an active mentor for men and women in technology. You can follow Margaret @seattledawson.

How to Incorporate Brand Advocates into Your Marketing Strategy

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Holly Cordner – Enjoy!

When asked about how and why they make purchases, most people say that reviews and recommendations play a major role. That holds true even in the B2B marketplace—according to one study, 60 percent of B2B tech buyers look at peer reviews before making buying decisions.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, when it comes to your own purchasing decisions, are you more likely to trust an ad or a person who’s actually used the product?

The question is, how can you boost positive reviews of your business and how should that play into your overall marketing strategy?

Brand Advocates: Generating Buzz

Brand advocates are more than just loyal customers—they’re ambassadors. They’re people who believe in your business and who are willing to answer questions, write blog posts, and help you create favorable word-of-mouth buzz. They can help you by reviewing your products and helping convince leads who may be on the fence about your services to take the plunge.

Who are your advocates? Where can you find them?

Begin by identifying customers who have had a good experience with your brand.

  • Get in touch with people who are interacting with you on social media or on review sites like Yelp.
  • Find customers who’ve given you positive reviews on comment cards or surveys.
  • Ask your salespeople—which customers to they turn to for references? Which customers are most satisfied with their experience?

Try to identify potential advocates on a regular basis—every three to six months or so—to keep your pool fresh.

This should go without saying, but in case it’s not obvious: in order to keep your loyal customer base large and happy, you need to provide consistently great service. It’s not enough to be just “adequate”— most companies do that—you need to “wow” your customers with attention to detail and personalized service. Try to accommodate special requests when you can, and let them know how much you appreciate them.

Setting Up a Brand Advocacy Program

Identifying advocates is only half the battle. You need to decide what to do with them once you’ve found them. Here are some ideas about how you can leverage their power to help maintain a positive image for your brand:

  • Ask them to follow you on social media and comment on and share what you post.
  • Ask them to write positive reviews and testimonials on your site, review sites like Citysearch, or their blog and social media profiles.
  • Ask them if you can film them talking about their experience with your brand.
  • Ask them to contribute to communities or forums.
  • Ask them for referrals.
  • Ask them to write blog posts or create images for you.
  • Ask them if you can use their experience as a case study.
  • Ask them to speak directly (over the phone or via email or chat) to potential customers.
  • Ask them to come up with FAQ questions and answers or identify improvements for your website.

These are just some of the ways that brand advocates can be put to good use. You should get creative and decide on which strategies will work for your business.

You should probably start small. Ask potential advocates to do something easy at first, like follow you on Instagram or give you a five star rating on Google+, before moving on to bigger projects like testimonials and blog posts. You may also want to consider setting up some sort of rewards or kickback program where advocates get a percentage off, a nominal payment, or free products (à la Amazon Vine) for completing tasks.

You should also invest some time in mentoring and quality control. You should let your advocates be authentic voices for your brand, but you may also want to set some guidelines if, for instance, you plan on connecting brand advocates with potential customers directly.

How about you? How are you leveraging the power of brand advocates in your business?

Holly Cordnerhollycordner is a marketing manager living in Salt Lake City. She writes for Needle, which helps businesses of all sizes identify brand advocates and connect them with customers. Her first love is technology with tofu coming in a close second.

 

Why Your Business Needs a Google+ Page Too

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Diana Gomez – Enjoy! 

If you are on Google+ (which you are) and if you run a business (which you do), you also need to create a G+ Page for your business that is wholly separate and distinct from your personal G+ profile.

Essentially, Google designed Google Pages to address the specific needs of business owners seeking to maximize Google’s features for their professional purposes.

Here are some of the basics you need to know for mastering your G+ business listing and some tips on where to devote your energies to reap the greatest rewards in harnessing the power of G+ for your business marketing strategy as well as enhancing your business’ reach across the online realm:

First Impressions Matter

With so much competition in any given field, unless you can create a visually stimulating profile page for your business, there’s a high likelihood that searchers will simply move on to the next business in the carousel that has prioritized its appearance.

At a minimum, your business page cover photo needs to represent your brand and indicate what line of business you are in. You may love kittens, but your business’ cover photo is not the venue to display this affinity (unless you are in the business of kittens, that is). If you are not, leave them on your personal G+ Profile Page or on an adorable YouTube video where they belong.

Ideally, the photo will be clear and will adapt well regardless which device the user employs. More and more searchers are doing so via mobile devices, so making sure your G+ Business Page is compatible is a must.

In addition, make certain that your properly linked website conveys the same message!

Google Maps Matters

The best way to establish your place “on the map” is by establishing your place on the map, literally.

When your business profile clearly lists your business address, your physical location will automatically show up when people search for your area of expertise using Google Maps. And that’s why it’s also important that you select the most-appropriate business category – Google wants to connect you with your potential customers, so help them help you.

Make sure your listing shows your address exactly as it appears on your website. Additionally, don’t just stop at your business name, location and physical phone number. Provide as much information as possible. Include hours of operation, a description of what you do in general, and a few specifics such as: most popular products and most requested information.

And perhaps most important, consistency across all of your business channels is key. If Google lists your address differently, change the one on your website to match theirs. Those who are willing to play the game according to Google’s rules are the ones whose businesses will benefit in the end.

Connect Through Conversations

One of the newest aspects of social media that Google is working to integrate across their own products is hashtags. Whenever you post something on your business page (and you should as often as possible), include relevant hashtags because Google now recognizes those in searches when it shows up on their own G+ outlets. If you are using the “right” hashtag at the “right time,” Google just might reward you with an increased rank in search.

As we all know, there’s no secret formula for getting to the top of the Google search charts. But if you follow these optimization guidelines when setting up your Google+ Business Page and listing, you are that much closer to connecting to your customers when they seek you out via Search, Maps, G+ or mobile devices.

And the best part is that by putting the work in upfront and staying on top of regular updates, from that point on, the rest will be taken care of by Google marketing automation.

DianaGomezDiana Gomez is the Marketing Coordinator at Lyoness America, where she is instrumental in the implementation of marketing and social media strategies for USA and Canada. Lyoness is an international shopping community and loyalty rewards program, where businesses and consumers benefit with free membership and money back with every purchase. Check out Lyoness on Facebook.

 

Not Having a Blog Is Not An Option

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Joel Libava – otherwise known as The Franchise King – Enjoy!

If your business doesn’t have a website, it doesn’t have a chance. And, I’m not even talking about a professionally designed and optimized one. If you don’t have even a basic website up and running these days, your prospective customers and clients are going to have a hard time seeing you as being relevant.

And, if you don’t have a blog attached to your website, those same prospective customers and clients aren’t going to have a chance to learn about your expertise, and about the human side of your business.

55,000,000

That’s how many blogs there are (in the world) at the time of this writing.

And, those are only WordPress blogs. There are millions of other blogs that are on other blogging platforms like Typepad, Drupal and Tumblr.

Now, you can let that number motivate you, or you can let it freak you out-it’s your choice. (Personally, I hope that it gets you motivated to get a blog up and running right now.)

Blog Benefits

  1. Visibility
  2. Your visibility-especially online, will increase with a blog. The more you write, the better the chances are that you’ll get noticed. And, not just by your potential customers/clients. Reporters, writers, and PR people read blogs too.

  3. SEO
  4. Search engines love fresh, new content. Search-engine spiders-those little robots that are scouring the web, 24/7, get energized when they locate something new…especially if it’s closely related to the words that are being searched by your customers/clients.

    Active blogs…ones that have at least 1-2 original posts published weekly, provide that fresh, new content that search engines crave, which in turn, can increase your company’s chances of being found online by your target audience.

  5. Cred
  6. You need some. If you don’t come across as being a credible source of information, your customers are going to have a difficult time opening their wallets up to you…your business.

    A great way to show just how much you know is to write about it. These days, there’s no better way to do it, then on a blog. (It doesn’t even have to be done on your own blog. See #4.)

  7. New opportunities
  8. Once you’ve been writing posts-articles of your own on your own blog for a while, you can start approaching others in your industry, or even a related one, and write a blog post for them. (A guest post)

    Writing an article on someone else’s blog can provide you an opportunity to showcase your knowledge to an entirely new reader base. (And, possible new business opportunities and/or strategic partnerships.)

    Just make sure that your post is informational and helpful in nature-not promotional. (You’ll get an opportunity to promote yourself-your company at the end of your post, along with a link to your website or blog*.)

  9. Keeps your head in the game

There’s something to be said for writing your thoughts down, as opposed to verbalizing them or keeping them in your head.

You know things that others don’t. Why would you want to keep those things inside of you?

Do you have an idea that potential customers/clients can put to good use right away? Share it through a blog post. Do you have some opinions about your industry…and what needs to be changed to make it even better? Consider sharing those opinions on your blog. (Only if you’re comfortable doing so.)

Having an active blog keeps your head in the game-your game…your industry.

You want some more? Check out these 9 hidden benefits of blogging.

Thousands of articles…blog posts…have been written over the years on the importance of having a blog. If you don’t have one yet, what are you waiting for?

No more excuses

If you don’t consider yourself to be tech-savvy, have no fear. There are literally thousands of talented designers and programmers that can help you set-up your blog. It’s not expensive either, so scratch that one off your list of excuses of why you can’t do this right now.

If you haven’t written anything of substance for a while, don’t sweat it-I have a solution. Start a blog, and start writing. You’ll get better. Just keep writing.

And, if you think that no one will read it, you’re just plain wrong. Do you have any friends? Ask them to read your blog. Do you have employees? Do the same with them, and ask others in your industry to read it, too. Add a link to your blog on your main website. Do you have a LinkedIn account? Add a link there, too. Think of some other places that you can include a link to your new blog. And, before you know it, you’ll have a handful of readers.

That’s all you need at the beginning.

The more you write the more interest you’ll garner. Your early readers will start to share your posts with others. They may start reading your blog…they may even subscribe for free to receive your newest blog posts.

Have I succeeded in convincing you to start a blog?

The Franchise King®, Joel Libava, is the author of Become A Franchise Owner! He’s on a mission to create a new generation of super-successful franchise owners. He provides much-needed advice to individuals interested in franchise ownership with his top-notch advisory services and to the masses via his award-winning franchise blog. He’s on Twitter constantly @FranchiseKing.

What Most Small Businesses Are Doing Wrong on Social Media (And 5 Tips For Success)

I’m taking some vacation time this week and I’m actually going to stand waist deep in the Columbia River in Oregon and cast for Trout. (Don’t worry I won’t hurt any I’m strictly a catch and release kind of guy.)  While I am away, I have a great lineup of guest bloggers filling my shoes.  This post is brought to you from Dave Kerpen.

Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable, a social media agency that has worked with more than 200 leading brands, including Verizon and Neutrogena. He is author of The New York Times best seller Likeable Social Media. Dave recently launched Likeable Community College and Likeable Local.

Over 900 million people in the world are on Facebook, including over 180 million Americans, or 1 in 2 adults. Twitter recently surpassed 300 million accounts. Small business owners are trying to take advantage of these trends, but few are fully reaping the rewards. 

For most business owners, the temptation is to use social networks to promote themselves and broadcast their messages. But if you stop thinking like a marketer and start thinking like a customer, you’ll understand that the secret to social media is being human – being the sort of person at a cocktail party who listens attentively, tells great stories, shows interest in others, and is authentic and honest.  The secret is to simply be likeable.

Here are 5 tips for small business owners to be more likeable and ensure greater success using social media:

  1. Listen first. Before your first tweet, search Twitter for people talking about your business and your competitors. Search using words that your prospective customers would say as well. For example, if you’re an accountant, use Twitter to search for people tweeting the words “need an accountant” in your town. You’ll be surprised how many people are already looking for you.
  2. Don’t tell your customers to like you and follow you, tell them why and how they should. Everywhere you turn, you see “Like us on Facebook” and “Follow us on Twitter.” Huh? Why? How? Give your customers a reason to connect with you on social networks, answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” and then make it incredibly easy to do so. Note the difference between these two calls to action: “Like my book’s page on Facebook” and “Get answers to all your social media questions at http://FB.com/LikeableBook.
  3. Ask questions. Wondering why nobody’s responding to your posts on Facebook? It’s probably because you’re not asking questions. Social media is about engagement and having a conversation, not about self-promotion. If a pizza place posts on Facebook, “Come on by, 2 pizzas for just $12,” nobody will comment, and nobody will show up. If that same pizza place posts, “What’s your favorite topping?” people will comment online– and then be more likely to show up.
  4. Share pictures and videos. People love photos. The biggest reason Facebook has gone from 0 to 900 million users in 7 years is photos. Photos and videos tell stories about you in ways that text alone cannot. You don’t need a production budget, either. Use your smartphone to take pictures and short videos of customers, staff, and cool things at your business, and then upload them directly to Facebook and Twitter. A picture really is worth a thousand words – and a video is worth a thousand pictures.
  5. Spend at least 30 minutes a day on social media. If you bought a newspaper ad or radio ad, you wouldn’t spend 5 minutes on it or relegate it to interns. Plus, there’s a lot to learn, and every week, new tools and opportunities across social networks emerge. Spend real time each day reading and learning, listening and responding, and truly joining the conversation. The more time and effort you put in to social media, the more benefits your business will receive.

Above all else, follow the golden rule:  Would you yourself click the “Like” button, the Follow button, or Retweet button if you saw your business on Facebook and Twitter? Would you want to be friends with your business at a cocktail party? Just how likeable is your business?

Image credit: owenwbrown

The Hierarchy of Social Marketing

I think one of the things that small business marketers struggle with around the entire topic of social marketing is trying to jump into the new new thing without enough analysis of what they should focus on. I happen to think this is an important, evolving and essential area of marketing for small businesses, but there’s a hierarchy to it. In other words, there is a logical progression of utilization that comes about much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Nature.

Social Marketing HierarchyAs Maslow theorized, the ultimate potential of your marketing or human self-actualization couldn’t be achieved until the most basic human psychological needs – breathing, eating, sleeping, sex were first met. (Yes, I’m about ready to compare blogging to sex.) In fact safety, love, and esteem all come before transcendence. Now, before I edge too close to the deep end here, I’m simply comparing what I think is a bit like progressing up the social marketing hierarchy.

Most small business owners should look at the following progression or hierarchy as they move deeper into social marketing tactics. So, jump in, but do it in this order and don’t move on until you have the basics of each stage down and working for you.

Blogging – the foundation of the pyramid – read blogs (Google Reader or Bloglines), comment on blogs and then blog. This is the doorway to all other social marketing – WordPress, TypePad, Blogger

RSS – aggregate and filter content around subjects and use RSS technology as a tool to help you repurpose, republish and create content – Some tools – Feedburner, Google News and mysyndicaat

Social Search – this is often ignored in this discussion but I think it’s become very important for small business owners. Directories that publish reviews from customers – good and bad. You can participate and should stimulate and manage your reputation here. Insider Pages, Google Maps, Yahoo Local, Local.com, Judy’s Book, Yelp

Social Bookmarking – tagging content to and participating in social bookmarking communities can be a great way to open up more channels to your business as well as generate extra search traffic, but it takes work – del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Mixx, Small Business Brief

Social Networking – branching out to take advantage of the numbers of potential prospects that you might find in sites like Facebook or MySpace will frustrate at least as a business tool if you don’t have many of the above needs met. These networks take time to understand and thrive on ideas and content. You’ve got to have much to share if you wish to build a business case. The good news is that industry and idea specific sites for everything from book lovers to green living are springing up every day. Here’s an enormous list of social networking sites from Mashable

Micro – I’ve lumped some of the more experimental social tools into the edge trend of micro, social, real-time communication that will likely only confuse most small business owners. The confusion is not because they can’t figure out how to make them work, it’s just not obvious why they would spend the time. I think Maslow suggested the self-actualization was a place that most might never reach and in social marketing terms Twitter, Thwirl, Plurk and FriendFeed might be some sort of sick transcendence.

All the evidence that we have indicates that it is reasonable to assume in practically every human being, and certainly in almost every newborn baby, that there is an active will toward health, an impulse towards growth, or towards the actualization.

Abraham Maslow

Is networking online really that different?

Social networkingWith all of the hoopla these days about networking online I can’t help but wonder why people get so confused about how to approach these new tools. See, networking is networking, only the tools that you can employ have changed.

When you think about it, hasn’t networking always been social networking?

Here are some of the proven, effective best practices when it comes to networking

  • It’s never about the sale, it’s always about the relationship – build first by giving
  • Don’t keep score, give because you can help, the universe will sort out the accounting
  • Network with your peers and partners as much as with your prospects and customers
  • Every network has influencers, build relationships with the influencers
  • Get out and chat, lunch and visit with the members of your network from time to time

While I’m sure there is many a fine point that could be added to that list, would you agree that’s what effective networking looks like? So, I ask you, does that change just because the networking platform is no longer a Chamber of Commerce? Doesn’t that sound like a pretty effective way to approach building and expanding your network within a Small Business Brief, Digg or LinkedIn?

Building and maintaining strong networks is the killer practice for the most successful organizations, every business should be reaching out and connecting with customers, prospects and partners both online and off. The secret to opening up these new access points online and expanding your networking reach globally is to go in there with the same best practices in mind, but find ways to creatively apply them with the new, rich set of tools.

Okay, an example of creatively applying this concept.

Let’s do lunch – can become let’s do virtual lunch.

Here’s what I would propose – send 5 people you would like to network with a $10 Panera Bread Company gift card and invite them to grab lunch and meet for an online group chat to discuss X (x = a topic like a book, or tool or some challenge you know is common.) – You can use Campfire from 37 Signals to host the chat.

Here’s what is really cool about this. This could be a very powerful medium to network, share ideas and build relationships. You could set this up and do it weekly with different peers, partners and customers. (you don’t have to always buy the lunch!) But, what I really like about this idea is that the group chat tool creates a transcript that will certainly enhance the participation of the members in the chat and could easily turn into great content for future consumption.