Photo via Flikr user {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

Recently, I encountered (yet again) a complaint I’ve heard often about social media. I was chatting with a new acquaintance of mine–someone I’d met on LinkedIn, actually– when she mentioned how she dislikes Facebook because, “I don’t care what people are having for lunch.”

TMI: it’s more than just a social media hazard

It’s true. Facebookers (and Twitterers, and others) tend to share inane and sometimes way-too-personal details about their daily lives. But this behavior is hardly new or secluded to social media. (Are you going to tell me you’ve never rolled your eyes and muttered “TMI” as a co-worker shared some personal tidbit that you really didn’t want to know?)

But if you’re in sales (and if you’re in business, you are in sales) then you probably know how important it is to build rapport with your customers and prospects. That’s because we humans are social creatures and we enjoy purchasing from people we like.

Social marketing: it’s like a cocktail party

The absolute wrong way to approach social media marketing (and a good way to make people NOT like you) is to climb on a soapbox and preach the virtues of your latest product or promotion. Instead, think of social media as the world’s largest cocktail party: a place to hang out, enjoy yourself, and…wait for it…build rapport!

If you want to grow a social media following that’s full of potential customers, you need to interact. Pay attention to what your friends, followers, and fans are saying–then respond. Maybe you could suggest a favorite menu item from the restaurant they just announced they’re lunching at.

Social media updates: a hidden source of leads

Once you tune in to your audience you’ll begin to uncover fantastic business opportunities. For example, when one of my graphic designer friends announces they’re working with a new client, I chime in with “Congratulations! Do you think they could use any SEO copywriting?”

It doesn’t have to be that obvious, though. Let’s say you sell makeup and one of your Facebook friends starts talking about how she’ll be attending her sister’s wedding next month; why not offer a free consultation for the bridal party?

Bottom line: treat your social media following like the people they are and they’ll reward you with comments, retweets, and purchases.

If you have a story about how social media has connected you with a new client I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.