For years people have promoted “social media marketing” as an activity that every business must take part in – jumping onto social networks and marketing your product and/or service. But how effective has it been? Do you embrace someone who connects with you on Facebook and then sends you their latest product information or business opportunity? I know I don’t.

There definitely are ways to promote the work that you do on social networks.  First you have to consider whether social networks are about forcing yourself in front of someones face or is it about connecting and building a relationship first?

My wonderful friend and networking guru (in my eyes at least 🙂 ) Bjorn Guldager told me years ago that networking was all about building relationships when you don’t need people so that when you do need them they are there.  That is probably how our networking relationship started and now it is more of a friendship too.

Here is a definition of marketing “the commercial processes involved in promoting and selling and distributing a product or service”

and here is one on networking “the act of meeting new like-minded people in a business or social context”

There is no selling involved in networking, no promotion of anything, just an opportunity to meet other like-minded people and get together with them. Sometimes it may result in business and other times it won’t but you make a great connection.  Networking professionals and trainers will always tell you that true networking has nothing to do with selling and everything to do with listening and helping. You give/contribute before you ever think of selling/taking.

Two weeks ago I joined an internet marketing network for people in the UK. As a result of writing up not only professional information about myself but also personal stuff I connected with someone who has a connection to the same Caribbean island that my parents are from. Nothing to do with internet marketing and everything to do with networking and making connections.

We immediately have a connection which may result in me helping him or him helping me in the future or it may amount to nothing more than a connection. True networking starts this way. You connect with “liked minded” people – you find a common bond and you build a relationship from that moment.

As a blogger looking to use social media as a place to connect to potential customers I believe you do yourself a dis-service when you focus on social media marketing and put yourself into a much better position when you focus on social media networking.

It doesn’t mean having to make friends with all your potential customers. It just means connecting, acknowledging that connection, letting them know you have a connection if you do have one (we are both in London, we are both members of a group on facebook, we are both bloggers etc) then staying in touch. The more you connect with people the better chance they will take the time to find you. If you simply add your business name on their profile and tell them to check you out – chances are you will never hear from them again. I know when people make their first contact with me all about them I promptly delete the comment and disengage.

Remember you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Promote how you help not what you sell.

[UPDATE : Some great advice from Mike Koenigs on building relationships]