twitter hatchingMany of us have been in the social media game for a while.

Back when it was first available, we started reading online magazines, playing games against unknown opponents, collaborating on wikis and sharing content ideas and thoughts in blogs and crowdsourcing platforms. We built Facebook and LinkedIn profiles back before we really understood their power, and we connected with anyone willing to “follow” us on Twitter. Maybe we even set up Instagram accounts to share our view of the world… and YouTube videos to teach others what we know.

But the essence of social media is social networking — the interactive, social side of social media, where mutually beneficial relationships are the name of the game. In social networking, we make ourselves findable, “meet” people we might want to connect to, share information and learn about them as they learn about us.

I’m often asked if there is a return on investment (ROI) for social networking. Is the time, effort, and strategy of building online relationships worth it, monetarily and professionally? My short answer is YES!


It’s All About Strategy

Before I share my three social networking ROI examples, I’ll share some aspects of my own personal branding and reputation management strategy to give you an idea of what one looks like.

  1. Leverage the online community to enhance my credibility as an expert in international personal branding and reputation management, serving corporate executives, nonprofit leaders and military veterans;
  2. Build relationships with key influencers who can provide information, insight and connections to stakeholders in my target markets; and
  3. Demonstrate genuine passion for my work, generosity towards those I serve, and a desire to contribute to the growth of personal branding as a process that everyone needs.

With that strategy in place, I built social networks across the popular platforms where a) my brand strategy could gain traction; b) my target audience and influencer set participates; and c) I could comfortably and consistently be myself, sharing my authenticity.

Now, with that context, here are three examples of the ROI I’ve experienced from my social networking:


1. Fortune Magazine

LinkedIn has always been a huge part of my business strategy. My clients (and prospective clients) are on LinkedIn, and the business community I seek to influence is actively engaged in thought leadership, deal flow, event promotion and news sharing on LinkedIn.It has made sense for me to put a lot of my social networking effort into cultivating relationships, joining and participating in targeted groups and sharing content, promotional materials and my perspectives on reputation management strategies, ideas and tactics.

I also made a concerted effort early to connect to several key members of the media who cover my topic (or my client’s industries) and have an affinity for specialists in the career/job seeker/executive coaching space.

At the same time, I spent hours on search engine optimization (SEO) for my LinkedIn profile. (Did you know you can do this? I wrote this blog showing you how.)

In 2011, I received an email from a journalist who identified herself as a “writer for Fortune Magazine.” She found my profile on LinkedIn and wanted to interview me for a piece on personal branding for Fortune. I think I fainted a few times before I wrote back and provided the information she requested.

Before we finalized the interview, I asked where she found me. “I did a search for experts in personal branding on LinkedIn, and I liked what I saw on your profile. You seem to have an affinity for the subject and a passion for the topic!” I think I fainted again.

I could never have afforded the kind of public relations muscle it might have taken to try to pitch a journalist at that level of such a publication. For my target audience, Fortune Magazine is considered very credible, and I have promoted this placement to secure many future media spots.


2. Michigan Veteran

My passion for helping people build their personal brands has led me to donate significant hours and work to help military veterans as they transition from military to civilian careers. Many of you know I recently published my second book on personal branding, this one specific to the veteran audience.

This book is garnering significant media attention, and I’ve been responding to requests for interviews as they arrive. Recently, while traveling to New York and Philadelphia (to discuss veterans issues with big companies back East), I received a call from a reporter with a huge business publication asking to interview me on the contents of the veteran book.

The problem was, this reporter needed to find a Michigan angle by interviewing a veteran who lived in the state (his article was for the Michigan outlet for this national publication). I knew this could lead to a national story, so I was very motivated to help him, but I didn’t know any veteran who lived in Michigan.

If I was just a civilian who sent a query on social networking sites asking to speak to a veteran who lived in the state of Michigan, I would have been met with silence. The veteran community is very close-knit and sometimes suspicious. Knowing that, I used the credibility I have established over five years — producing free webinars for veterans in transition, writing for national military publications, counseling hundreds of veterans (many of whom have spoken highly of me on social networks) — to reach out. I asked for a contact and a contact was returned.

A retired Marine knew another Marine who lived in Michigan. The first Marine vouched for me because he had followed my work online and believed I could be trusted. This endorsement allowed me to provide this reporter with a local angle and the story is moving forward. Again, the PR value of this effort will promote my book and help me provide more resources to military veterans, which is a huge part of my focus on generosity.


3. Client in Australia

I remember the weekend I got Howard’s email. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and I received a website inquiry from a gentleman in Australia inquiring about my services.

He said he had first done a Google search and found my website. Then, he cross referenced my LinkedIn, Facebook business page, Twitter feed and several of my YouTube videos. What he saw, he said, was a consistent talent and passion for helping senior business executives build and manage their reputation. That was what he needed.

I could not imagine what the costs would have been to identify, pitch and secure this client if I had not used my social networking platforms to do the groundwork for me. After we talked, this client saw that what I said and how I said it was even further reinforcement that I was who I represented myself to be, and we moved to a contract.

Two years later, Howard is still my client, and he refers to the fact that we would have never met if not for social networking and online tools.


The Takeaway

If you’re currently using your social networks just for fun, consider whether the potential exists to do more. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

Growing and developing your career involves other people, and many of these people are just a keystroke away. The ROI on your time spent cultivating and nurturing your social networks can be amazing!

How have you found ROI with your own social networks? Share in the comments!

This post originally appeared on Unleashing Your Brand.

Image: Flickr