Is it truly possible to meet people, share a business concept and sponsor others into your business without meeting face to face? Can we really build strong relationships and partnerships using the Internet?

The answer is absolutely yes. Let me offer you some insights about using some of today’s most visited online marketing venues: message boards, forums and social networking sites. These forums and communities are like bulletin boards online. They are the “water cooler” of the Internet, where people gather to research, express and share ideas and needs.

There are online message boards and communities for virtually any subject you can think of. No need to limit yourself to “network marketing” or “home business” forums. Some of the largest online communities include MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Ning. There are many more.

To be most effective in your approach, define your parameters in each of these areas:

First Impressions

When participating in online forums, always start by creating relationships. Follow the same principles as when meeting people offline: say hello, ask questions and get your new acquaintances talking about themselves. Find common interests.

When entering an online forum, picture yourself walking into a party. While you may know one or two people, your intention is to meet lots of new people and expand your horizons. Just as you would not walk into a party flashing a neon sign that says, “Ask me about my business,” don’t do this online either. Leave your business in the background and wait for the right time and place.

One powerful attribute of online forums and social sites is that they typically let you create a personal profile. With a simple click, your contacts can visit your profile page and learn more about you, including your business. Make your profile broad enough and keyword rich. People search online by typing in keywords, and you want to be found by your appropriate keywords. Make your profile about more than just your business and you’ll attract people of many interests: what do you like to do? Do you travel? Have children? Homeschool? Enjoy cooking? Gardening? Belong to a wine club?

Share generously about yourself so prospects can get to know you quickly. Include information about your business in a matter-of-fact way and keep it as just another part of the conversation. Always add a picture. Lifestyle pictures sell much more than fancy houses and expensive cars. Family time is in!

Growing Your Contact List

You can quickly develop a network of contacts online through the “friend” and “network/group” features most social and forum sites offer. As you seek out people with whom you share common interests, you can network with their contacts by viewing and connecting with their database of contacts. This is similar to the “Who do you know?” concept networkers have used offline for years.

As you develop your profile, you’ll define your answers as to who your target market will be for each site you visit. Certainly, you are looking for people who share a common interest in home business and network marketing. You are also looking to connect with those who share other common interests, because there is always the possibility that they might develop an interest in your business down the road.

Don’t hesitate to make contact with people in other network marketing companies. You never know who might be looking for a change, or with whom you can develop a referral relationship. Each person you connect with has the potential to put you in contact with hundreds and even thousands of others.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do not blast into an online community crowing about your product and your opportunity. Just like offline, that’s a fast ticket to nowhere. Many forum members get turned off by network marketing because of unscrupulous or inept visitors who do nothing but blast their opportunity. The time to tell someone about your business is when the person asks you about what you do.

When you enter into a community or a friendship online, always think about how you can add value instead of focusing on what might be in it for you.

Ask questions and offer ideas to those who are struggling.

Share personal stories and what has helped you. Did you read a great article online? Post the link so others can also learn. Saw a great motivational quote? Pass it on.

Solve a problem for someone and the person will remember you for life—and will want to know more about you. The more people click to your profile or personal website, the more you will become known, which will bring even more people to your page.

Gain trust with other readers and visitors by being authentic, honest and transparent. Build a presence and through that presence, you will build a following.

Be consistent; be a contri-butor. Set yourself apart from many of the others who show up.

Developing a following of potential friendships, prospects and partnerships online requires patience and commitment. Have a daily and weekly action plan for visiting and contributing to each social network and forum you belong to and stick to it. Establish yourself as credible and knowledgeable, and people will begin visiting your website and profile, contacting you and requesting more information.

The only secret to mastering this way of recruiting is to show up regularly, offer value and have integrity. Get out online and have fun; meet some people and watch your business take off by having people come to you. It’s a full-blown party out there—and you want to be part of it!

JACKIE ULMER is a network marketing veteran, author
and coach. She’s used the Internet to build her network
marketing business up to a solid six-figure income while
maintaining the roles of wife, mom and social coordinator.
Her passion is empowering women and young
entrepreneurs to believe in themselves and reach for the stars.