I got my start in social networking when I adopted my first child. The adoption agency that I was working with has an online message board I joined in 2001 where adoptive parents could go to lend support, ask and answer questions, and form friendships. As the wait got longer (and harder), this message board was my lifeline. I spent hours every day talking with other waiting parents who, like me, wished they could force the clock to move faster so our children could just get home, already.
One of the very interesting things I noticed during this experience was the fact that some people got more responses than others. Depending on how “popular” you were on the site, you might get 1 or even no answers to your question, or you might get dozens of responses in a matter of minutes. I wondered at the time how people could gain such a following, and began to track the trends of the power users. It turned out that the most important trait that the power users had was their ability to connect with people. They shared information, laughed and cried with people, celebrated others, and just generally made people feel good. When people had questions, they were the first ones to answer. When there was a celebration, guess who was cheering the loudest?
What these people were building up was something called “social capital.” They engaged, contributed, answered questions, and made people feel important. In the real world we would call these social skills. But in the online social networking arena, the result of building up this social capital was that when these people had a question, a problem, etc, they had so many people they had touched who were rushing to give back to them. I watched one woman build a personalized announcement card business entirely through the building up of social capital. Everyone on the social network used her, because they loved HER. Yes, her product was good. Everyone wanted to post a picture of the cards she made for them, and every one was an advertisement for her business. But her initial sales, and all her referrals, came because of what she was willing to give to others on the message board. We knew all about her kids, and she knew all about ours. She had laughed and cried with us. Simply put, we loved her.
For the direct seller, it’s important to build up social capital before you build your business. You have probably heard the adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Well people also don’t care what you have to sell until they care about YOU. And especially in direct sales, this is a VERY important distinction.
So let’s take a look at how this works. Obviously the first thing that people need to invest in order to build up social capital is time. If you want to build up social capital online, you MUST be willing to invest the time to get to know people. I have mentioned in other posts on this blog which tools I think are most effective for direct sellers: Facebook first, then Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as a blog if you can write well. I’ll add that other online social groups can also be good, if people in your target market frequent them. So start by engaging the people you have connected with in the online communities you are a part of. You MUST invest at least 30 minutes daily in engagement at a very minimum. What do you do during that time? Read what other people are saying and respond to them. If someone has a question you know the answer to, answer them! Be helpful, be supportive, be a cheerleader. Take some time to offer a phone call where you give free advice to someone. Be a giver.
In the mood to test how much capital you’ve built up? Post a question. See how much of a response you get. Only 1 or 2? You need to build up more capital.
Eventually, based on how much value you provide to the community, you can begin to share what you have to offer. In fact, you may find others who want to share it for you after you’ve helped them with your product. (Referrals are even better than you doing it yourself.)
At the end of the day, it will be your social capital that matters. If you are going to succeed at all with social media marketing, it will be because you were willing to invest of yourself, your knowledge, and your time, into building others up. Only when they know how much you care, will they care about anything else you have to offer.