By Monica Pitts

This article is not one of those “what you should be posting about on social media” bits. When you’re posting things on your social media page that’s like putting up a trade show booth. And we both know just putting up a booth doesn’t make the sale. It’s the conversations you have at the booth or at the booth’s of others that build relationships and eventually close business.

When you network in person you have a conversation one-on-one. And that’s what we’re missing right now. So I am going to explain how I use social media as a business owner, a salesperson, and as a representative of my company to connect with people in a similar way to how I would be connecting with people at a trade show.

Facebook and Linkedin are the best networks for this specific strategy.
The networks I find easiest to connect one-on-one are Facebook and LinkedIn. I’m not saying you can’t do it on other networks, I’m not suggesting other networks are bad. I’m just saying for this specific strategy I find Facebook and LinkedIn work best.

Social media haters – stick with me.
My husband, Mike, always says how much he hates social media. He says people aren’t real and they’re always just griping or posting randomness. I tell him he’s just using social media the wrong way.

See, I hardly ever hangout in my own news feed filled with posts from ex-colleagues, high school friends and business acquaintances. That place holds no magic for me.

Get out of your newsfeed and move into groups.
I use social media to observe prospects from afar and connect with them using groups. People in social media groups all have a collective interest, and often have a common problem they’re trying to solve. I can see the challenges they face as a business and consider how I can position myself to help them solve those problems.

In a productive group people act closer to the way they’d behave in a mastermind group or a networking setting. Asking questions, looking for answers, talking back and forth. They’re not posting fake news or sharing cute photos of their toddlers…unless you’re in a group that does that…and I most certainly am not.

Seek out groups that serve your target audience.
You can join groups that serve your prospects personally or professionally. Consider the types of individuals you need to meet to get leads and meet the right people to grow your business. As you’re looking for groups to participate in, remember, just like in networking, not every connection is about a sale, many times it’s about meeting the right person to connect you with the next person you need to meet.

Evaluate the group to be sure it’s worth your time.
You want a group that has over a few hundred members that are actually posting content and commenting on what’s posted. You want a group where people are having a conversation, not just posting sales content.

Being a good group member is a two way street.
You need to contribute value to the group to get value from it. You’ll get farther by interacting with the content of others more often than posting things yourself.

How to get the most out of being a group participant.

1. Look for questions you can answer.
And…you’ll answer those questions. Bingo – relationship started. If you have a downloadable resource or link you want to share that directly answers the question, tell the person asking the question to direct message you for the link. This will both show that you have an answer and keep you in the good graces of the group administrator. They don’t like it when you post promotional content.

2. Remember those questions – they can fuel your marketing.
Take note of the questions you see on repeat that you can answer, those are the ones you want to post answers to in your own social media, blog or podcast…heck you can even give an answer in a comment then copy that answer and paste it into your own newsfeed with the question.

3. Evaluate active members – who do you want to know?
Do you like someone’s answer? If someone seems cool, check them out. Click on their profile, do they know lots of people? Where do they work? They might be someone you want to connect with personally using a direct message via your social platform.

4. Post questions in the group.
Post questions in the group to learn more about your audience and get answers of your own. Interact with the people who answer. Is there anyone interacting that would be a good person to know?

Listen and interact.
Now, I do have a few things that help me along in my journey toward making social connections. I create regular marketing content like podcasts, blog posts and downloadable resources that I can share with people. These are like party favors allowing me to turn a person from a social connection to an email connection which offers a more direct path to contact them in the future.

But even if you don’t have those things and want to get started doing more digital marketing you can get ideas for resources, blogs and podcasts by observing people on social media. The conversations taking place in groups is a great place to understand what your prospects need and pave the way for you to connect.

Monica Pitts is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of MayeCreate Design. She spends her days constructing a marriage of form and function; creating art with her design team to grow businesses through websites and online marketing. Monica considers herself an artist, marketer and web dork with the ability to speak geek and English.