Let's face it, we are all here online for the same reason: to make sales. BUT, you can never let that be your primary objective when social networking. If you do, the only thing you'll be selling is your good reputation. Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest mistakes a new online business can make; and for good reason. Most of today's social networking sites make it so easy to spam, and many newbies make the rookie mistake of assuming that people give a hoot what it is that they are selling. They don't! You have to make them give a hoot, and spamming them is not going to do it.
Make it Personal
Never forget that you have to treat your potential customers online the same way you would if you were face to face in a real life shop. Remember their names and the names of their families. Take the time to get to know more about them than just their username and avatar. Reply to their posts. In a nutshell, the quickest way to get a potential customer to care about you and your product is to care about them.
You have to Give to Receive
Most new online businesses are so focused on the bottom line-selling-that they forget the golden rule of treating others as you would want to be treated. You're not the only one with an online business, you know! If you happen across someone asking for help, help them. Or better yet, seek these people out. Perhaps you have a charity or cause that you believe in, why not offer to donate an item from your store to help them raise money? Etsy has a forums section in which people regularly post requests for help with just about everything you can think of. If you are an Etsian, become a presence in the forums and offer to help without expecting anything in return. Twitter has an etiquette that looks down upon "tweeting" your own items too much, so why not tweet someone else's? There's nothing wrong with posting a compliment like "I love these amazing earrings by so and so" and include their link. Best case scenario? They tweet your store and link. Worst case scenario? You make a new friend. Not too shabby. Just remember, the fastest way to getting what you want is giving others what they need.
Target your ideal demographic
Each social networking site is set up differently, and so you can't apply the same techniques to all of them. The one thing they have in common though, is the ability to target your customer base. Use common sense. If you are on Etsy, find other Etsians. If you sell high end trendy clothing seek out groups that have young trendy fashionistas. If you sell doggie outfits, befriend the pet parents. It's not rocket science! Facebook makes this incredibly easy to do, but you can apply this to Twitter as well by reviewing each person's profile. You may have noticed by now that I do not refer to MySpace. I know many people who use MySpace, and are quite happy there but I have heard too many bad stories to feel comfortable on there. It is a great site for anyone looking to visually market their product and are not comfortable with building a website. Just remember that the protections that Facebook offers are not on MySpace, at least not the last time I checked.
It's easy to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and try to brand yourself as something you think is more appealing. This is a lot like leaving a glass of milk out on the counter for days. Day one: no big deal. Day 3: your guests know something is wrong, but just don't want to say anything to your face. Day 7: you no longer have guests. Your online customers will smell the stink of fake too. Don't worry if you weren't the homecoming queen or valedictorian. You would be surprised how responsive people can be to dork, or nerd or just plain normal. What ever you are, scream it from the rafters (within reason-if you wouldn't say it at work or church you probably shouldn't say it online) and you will see your following grow.
Social networking is without a doubt the number one way to reach out to potential customers and get your product out there. Just be smart, kind, honest and most importantly patient and before you know it, you'll have more customers than you know what to do with. Now get out there and make some sales!