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Improve Your Profile, Make More Friends

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Author: Mark Steadman

PUTTING IT ABOUT

This week I want to look at raising your profile online. There are some really easy - and more importantly - free ways of doing this. I say free; obviously I mean financially free. What I'm talking about takes a bit of effort, but is very worthwhile.

I'm sure you already know the virtues of networking. Not everyone enjoys it, but you know the benefits, right? Well, I don't think enough people understand how this translates to the world of the Web. Networking online can be just as - if not more - valuable than going to a networking event, and here's for why...

Let's say you go to a seminar on PR for small businesses. After the seminar you have the usual opportunities to swap business cards and chat to people, to try and generate some new leads and also build up your network of contacts. The chances of finding someone who's looking for your product or service are fairly remote, but the chances of being able to help someone else and therefore be remembered are quite high. You just listen to the right conversation, and if you have something to contribute, slip in your two-pence worth, with a business card attached!

This same principle applies to the Web, and it's much easier, plus you don't need to pay to get in. Granted, you don't get the free nibbles, but hey, rough with the smooth and all that...

MR STEADMAN HAS THE FLOOR

What I'm talking about is forums or messageboards as they're often called. These places are full of people looking to get their questions answered, and if you're the one with the answers, you could find yourself in demand. People will read the reply you've written to the question raised, and visit your site because of it. They might take issue with your point, but at least you've identified yourself as someone who knows things.

THE LONG GAME

Where online networking beats the face-to-face kind is its longevity. Often a particular discussion (or "thread").can run for weeks, if not months, and if you're actively participating in that debate, your profile will improve. Plus, forum readers remember the usernames of those who have made good and bad contributions, so if you've got a memorable username and you can offer some good advice, or even raise a question, people will remember you when they - or someone they know - needs your service.

This last fortnight, one third of the people who found me through a link were following a link on a forum site. Most of them came from the UK Business Forums which I check regularly, and which is a really lively and well used forum. If you've not used it before, I'd suggest giving it a go.

8 TOP TIPS

Here are my top tips for working the forums

1. Obey the rules. This is so important. Forum members have little tolerance for spam merchants, and you could find yourself out on your ear before you've even started. Don't just start a new thread by plugging your latest product. Try to make it relevant to people's needs, or answer a question you think people may be harbouring. If you can turn your PR spiel into something valuable - something that makes the reader glad to have read it - you'll be on to a winner.

2. Pick a good username. My trick (and I think it's worked) is to use my domain name (msomedia.com) as my username. Not all forums will accept this as some don't like characters like ".", but if you can get away with it, do it. It's quite unusual and so should stand out.

3. Introduce yourself. Good forum sites will have an "Introductions" area, where new members can say "hi". Tell the forum about yourself and your company, and give out the web address, but be warned: some forums will stop the link from being clickable, so don't expect too many hits from your introduction.

4. Sign off properly. 9 out of 10 forums will let you have a signature at the bottom of your posts. There are often restrictions, but when you've posted enough messages or have been a member for long enough to have a signature with links in it, take advantage of it. Write a good signature that links to your site using the right keywords (ala article 6 of this newsletter).

5. Look for unanswered questions. If you can find threads that have few replies, and you think you can offer an answer, go for it. You might find this quite difficult with the more popular forums, but if you check the sites maybe once or twice a day, or whenever you've got five minutes to spare, you might find a discussion you can join.

6. Ask for help. If you've got a problem or you need some advice, use the forums...that's what they're for! If you start a thread, you're more likely to get visitors from it.

7. Test the water. If you're thinking of providing a new service or selling a new product, ask forum members for advice. Post a new message - maybe with a poll if the site allows it - and ask whether they would be interested in what you were proposing. It's another way of getting yourself recognised, and (obviously) it's useful for gauging opinion.

8. Be yourself. Forums are about connecting people, so post as yourself, not as your company. You wouldn't shake someone's hand at a seminar and say "Hi, we're ABC Builders Ltd".

Aswell as the generic business forums like the UKBF and Teneric, there are many dedicated to all sorts of industries, so try finding the site that suits you, snuggle in and make yourself comfortable. Be an active part of that community, and make sure you've always got something to say. Use any spare moments during the day to cast an eye over the forums, and try to post a minimum of one message a week.

The Web is all about connection: connecting computers, connecting websites, connecting people. If you can get plugged in to a good online community, you'll be reaping the rewards. Good luck!

About the author

I'm Mark Steadman, director of MSO Media. My weekly eNewsletter "Getting Results" helps people get the most out of the Web, with practical advice, tips and tricks.

Sign up at http://www.msomedia.com/nletter_sub.aspx.


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