When it comes to building a successful blog the most common piece of advice is to focus on the quality of your content. Content is obviously important, but from my experience, networking is equally important.
Both content and a network are essential for blogging success, and they are the top two factors that determine which bloggers are successful. With that in mind, building a strong network should be a priority for every blogger.
Having a strong network can help you with getting advice from successful people, getting more links to your site, increasing exposure through social media sharing, opening up new money-making opportunities, helping to promote your products, and so much more.
In this post we’ll take a look at 10 essential principles of networking, and action steps that you can put into practice starting today.
1. Give More Than You Get
It’s critical to remember that networking is a two-way street. Many people that want to build their network are only motivated by what they can get out of their network, rather than focusing on how they can help others.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to get something positive for yourself out of your networking efforts, but it’s important to take an approach that will also benefit others in your network.
People who look for ways to help others will also benefit themselves because many people will repay the gesture at some point. We like to help people that have helped us, and this can be a powerful factor in networking.
When you want to strengthen a relationship with someone in your network, and connect for the first time with someone, think about ways that you could help them (see 10 Superb Ways to Help Other Bloggers for some ideas).
Action Step: Identify 3 people either in your current network, or people that you would like to get to know, and come up with one way that you could help each of them within the next week.
2. Be Genuine
Networking is highly personal. Although things like email and social networking sites make networking online very easy, don’t forget to prioritize the personal aspect. Just because you can easily reach out to any blogger or marketer through their site or social networks doesn’t mean that you should quickly write a generic message to them, or send a canned message that you’ve also sent to 10 other people.
It’s important to be genuine in your networking efforts, and really make an effort to get to know the people that you want to connect with.
Action Step: Review your “about” or “bio” page to make sure that it effectively and genuinely communicates with your website or blog visitors. Also, check your social profiles and bios to make sure that they are also effective and genuine. It’s not a bad idea to occasionally (not constantly) post something of a personal nature to your social media accounts, which can help your followers to connect with you on a more personal level.
3. Be Proactive
If you’re starting from scratch you will need to take action in order to build your network. Once you reach a high profile in your industry or niche you’ll have plenty of people coming to you, but if you are just getting started you will need to be proactive in order to build your network.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people through contact forms on their website/blog, by email, or through social networks. It’s a good idea to start off by interacting with them in the comments section of their blog and sharing their content via social media. This can help you to get noticed by others so that when you do reach out to them they will be familiar with you, at least to some extent.
Many of the strongest connections I have made with other bloggers over the years started with me simply reaching out through a contact form on their blog to introduce myself and to compliment them on the blog.
Action Step: Identify 1 person that you would like to get to know (or to know better if you’ve already had some contact with them), and reach out to them today. You could send a simple message to let them know that you appreciate their work, introduce yourself to them, ask if they would be interested in being interviewed at your blog, invite them to join you on your podcast, offer to write a guest post for their blog, or whatever else you think would be appropriate.
4. Take a Long-Term Approach
Building a strong network, just like building a successful business, takes time. Of course, it is great when you can see the results of your networking efforts quickly, but the real value of those efforts will be seen in time.
Don’t start your networking efforts with short-terms goals. Many bloggers consider networking to mostly consist of reaching out to other bloggers to ask for social media shares and votes to get more traffic for their latest post. There is nothing wrong with asking your friends and contacts to consider sharing your content in the right situation, but networking should be much more than that.
Instead, work on building strong connections with no particular short-term goal in mind. If you’re able to build strong connections with other bloggers in your industry or niche it will pay off in some way down the road. By focusing on a short-term goal you can damage your chances of establishing a true and strong connection with that person for the long term.
Action Step: Identify 3 bloggers in your niche or industry who you think are under appreciated currently. These should be bloggers who put out great quality content, but they may not be extremely well known within the industry yet. Many blogs fade and die quickly, but these quality bloggers that you have identified are likely to stick around for the long-term. Chances are their audience will grow over time, and they will become increasingly influential. Make an effort to connect with these people now while they are easier to reach and access. Subscribe to their blogs, get involved in the comments on their posts, follow them on social media, and within the next month reach out to them personally. Build a strong connection with these bloggers now and you will be able to help each other as you grow.
5. Prioritize Quality Over Quantity
It’s not important that you have thousands of people in your network. What is much more important is the quality of those connections.
The quality of your connections will involve how well you know the people in your network, how relevant your work is to one another, and the level of influence of each of you.
Whether intentional or not, most of us have an “inner circle” of people that are closest to us. This applies in social scenarios, such as students in a school, as well as in professional scenarios. The goal is to have a few strong connections with successful people that will form your inner circle. These are the people that you will be able to reach out to when you need advice, to get answers to questions from their experience, and for help when you need it. And of course, they will be able to count on you for these things as well.
Don’t dedicate all of your time to making new connections. Focus also on strengthening your existing connections and finding out which ones have potential to be a part of your inner circle.
Action step: Identify someone in your network that you would like to get to know better. Email them to see how they are doing and to ask if there is any way you can help them, or offer something specific (like sharing any of their posts through your social media profiles, interviewing them, writing a guest post, etc.)
6. Don’t Focus Only on Industry Leaders
One of the mistakes that many bloggers make, in my opinion, when it comes to networking is that they focus exclusively on highly influential bloggers. Sure, it would be great to get to know A-list bloggers, but they have so many people contacting them on a daily basis that it is really difficult to make a true connection with them.
My preferred approach is to start smaller and connect with others who are at a similar stage in their blogging as you. This way you will both be able to help each other as your blogs grow, and it’s far easier to develop connections with people who are still in the stage of working to grow their blog. Most bloggers who are trying to grow are very open to connecting with other bloggers, so it’s generally pretty easy to develop some good connections.
You don’t need to completely forget about networking with industry leaders, but make that a much smaller part of your networking efforts at first. As your network, your blog, and your profile within the industry grow, you’ll have better opportunities to connect with the most influential bloggers.
Action Step: Create a tribe at Triberr and invite other bloggers to join your tribe. Find bloggers who are active but still in the stage of trying to grow their blog, and many will be excited at the opportunity to join your tribe. Sharing each other’s content will help everyone in that participates in the tribe, and it can be a good way to start to build some connections that may strengthen with time. If you’re not familiar with Triberr, see this Guide to Getting Started on Triberr.
7. Be Approachable
While it is important that you take action when it comes to networking, it’s also important that others are able to easily reach out to you. Your website or blog should include a contact form that is easy to find, or at least list an email address where you can be reached. In today’s world of social networking it’s also a good idea to link to your profiles at sites like Twitter, Google+, and Facebook (or whatever social networks are popular with your audience) so others can reach you that way if they prefer.
Another part of being approachable involves responding to inquiries. Do you reply to comments left at your blog, to messages via social media, and to genuine inquiries through your contact form? If you respond to these types of inquiries it helps to show that you value the connections with your readers and followers, and it encourages people to get involved.
Action Step: Make sure that your website or blog has a working contact form (or at least a listed email address) that can be easily found in your site’s primary navigation menu. If this isn’t the case, set it up now. Also, make sure that visitors can easily find links to your social media profiles. Icons in the sidebar or header are commonly used for this purpose. Take the time to set this up now if your blog/site doesn’t already link to your social profiles in a place where it can be easily found. WordPress users can get plugins like Social Media Feather (free plugin) to add these icons.
8. Set Aside Time for Networking
There are so many aspects to running a blog or a website and so many things that need to be done. It’s very easy to overlook networking or to let other duties and responsibilities take a priority. But in order to build a strong network you will need to dedicate time for networking and connecting with others. The best way to be sure that networking will not be overshadowed by other tasks is to set aside time in your schedule specifically for networking.It doesn’t need to be a lot of time, but it should be a part of your daily, or at least weekly, schedule.
But what should you do with the time you set aside for networking?
You could use this time to interact at social media sites, comment on blog posts, email people that you would like to get to know, chat on Skype, or anything else that will help you to make stronger connections.
Action Step: Set aside 15-30 minutes each day for networking. I recommend dedicating a specific time slot for it (such as 9:30 – 10:00) to make sure that it doesn’t get pushed out of the way by other things on your to-do list. You could have different priorities for certain days, such as on Mondays you spend that time commenting on blog posts, on Tuesdays you proactively reach out to people via social media, on Wednesdays you send an email to someone new, etc.
9. Be Organized
As your network grows it becomes increasingly important that you maintain some organization. You’ll, of course, want to have easy access to the contact information of everyone in your network, and I also find it helpful to have a list of people that you consider to be in your network. This list can be helpful for identifying people that you haven’t communicated with in a while, so you can reach out to them every now and then.
It’s also helpful for seeing how your network grows over time as you add new people. If you categorize the list you can even use it to help you identify the people in your network that you want to get to know better. And, of course, when it comes time to ask for help from people in your network it is nice to have a convenient list.
Organization can also have a drastic impact on how you go about making connections. Brian Dean wrote an excellent post on blogger outreach, Blogger Outreach: How to Get Influencers to Promote Your Content for Free, where he lays out a step-by-step guide for finding influential people and connecting with them. Organization is key to the approach that Brian lays out.
Action Step: Set up a spreadsheet of all the people that you consider to be a part of your network. Add to the spreadsheet key influencers and other bloggers that you would like to add to your network. Include their contact info, social profiles, and blog URLs in the spreadsheet. On a weekly basis go through the spreadsheet and connect with these people by leaving comments on their blog posts, sharing their posts through social media, and contacting them when appropriate.
10. Network in Person, When Possible
There are so many great opportunities for networking online that we tend to forget about all of the things you can do to make connections face-to-face. During the years that I have been working online I have not met very many people in my network in person, but there is no doubt that the face-to-face connections that I have made have added something very significant.
It could take years of emails or messages through social media to reach the same type of connection that you could make with just a few hours of face-to-face contact. Whenever possible, make an effort to meet people in person. There are all kinds of conferences, seminars, and events in most industries that present extremely valuable networking opportunities. Local organizations and chambers of commerce also offer plenty of networking opportunities. Social networks also make it possible to connect with others. If you’re traveling you can easily post a message on Twitter about where you will be and when you will be there to see if people in that area would be interested in meeting up.
Action Step: Find a conference or seminar in your industry that you would like to attend within the next year. Cost if often a reason why people don’t attend events like this, so break down the amount that you will need to save each month from now until the event in order to go. You may be able to find something in a nearby city that wouldn’t require much travel or an overnight stay. If your desired trip will be costly, take the income from your website or blog and re-invest it into your business by using it to cover these costs.
What’s Your Approach to Networking?
Do you make networking a priority? If so, how do you go about developing relationships with the people in your network? Please feel free to share in the comments.