“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” — Albert Schweitzer

It has often been said that to be successful in our practice or business, you need to give something of value. Be it in networking or trying to connect with new clients, giving value to others is a solid foundation on which to base your networking and marketing efforts. But what is real value, especially in terms of connecting via social media and the internet?

Sometimes we, as a society, think of “value” in terms of “getting a lot for our money.” How often do you consider what “extras” you’re getting when you are purchasing an item or paying someone for a service? Many people don’t feel like they’re getting enough for their money unless they are getting “free bonuses.”

Think about it: parents might not be so inclined to buy the Happy Meal if there isn’t a “free” toy. People might not pick up the phone and call for those Ginsu knives unless they got another set absolutely free. “But wait—there’s more!” is a tired phrase, but without it, the item doesn’t seem like it has value.

Consider for a moment how we connect with others and network with colleagues and potential clients using social media and the internet, and how we have experienced others trying to connect with us.

Value doesn’t always have to be something tangible, such as a bonus thing-a-ma-jig or a free report. In fact, sometimes that bonus or freebie has no value if you can’t use it! Even worse, there is “anti-value”: you spend valuable time reading a report only to realize that you learned nothing and that you could have spent your time better elsewhere – time you will never get back.

If you want to market and promote yourself, you need to establish relationships and connections that matter. It takes time to nurture those relationships and connections, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a matter of giving away the right “freebie” one time and then never focusing on building a strong relationship beyond that.

Here is a four-step process to help you break in and make marketing and self-promotion via social media and internet connections more manageable, more meaningful, and, ultimately, more effective:

1. Know Your Community. If you are on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or use any other social site, observe what is going on for awhile (many people call it “lurking”). You might enjoy lurking because you can get a lot of great information, but if you stay in this step too long, you won’t reap the benefits! Just take fifteen minutes or so each day to absorb what is going on in the forums. You don’t have to spend hours reading absolutely everything – be very mindful of how you use your time on this. It can become a black hole of time-wasting.

2. Introduce yourself. This is where you start to make yourself known to other people and community members. You could simply update your status regularly with photos or other information, or change your profile. Put your best self out there. It’s always harder to toot your own horn, but for effective marketing, it’s necessary!

3. Be of ongoing service to others. Here is the meat of the process. Just as you have received value from what others have shared, focus on what you have to offer. Be thoughtful and mindful in what you share with others in the community. As you give value to others, your relationships will grow and develop. Some people fear giving away too much, feeling that they’ll lose in the end. But the reality is, when someone is searching for solutions, they’re not the expert. If you put yourself out there as knowledgeable and willing to help, your value increases, and your relationships will grow and develop.

4. Ask for help yourself. If you need an answer, you can put your connections to work for you. But even more importantly, if you’re going to be doing a presentation, or if you have written an article and want help spreading the word, just ask. Of course you don’t want to be annoying about it, but after you’ve helped others who have asked, you shouldn’t feel bad about asking for help in return. Plus, asking for help when you need it “humanizes” you – you aren’t holding yourself out to be the know-it-all on every topic in the world. Give others a chance to give to you, and receive their support.

It’s critically important to be of service and provide value to others in the process of promoting your services. As others get to know you through your online presence, they will start to feel comfortable with you as a professional and as a person. As people get to trust you, even if it is through social media, they are more likely to remember you when they are in need of the services you offer or know someone who could use your business card.

How do you connect with others using social media? What have you found to be effective? Post it below and “be of service” to the other readers of this blog!

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