6 steps to build a robust online network from scratch

These tips will get you started—even if you don’t know anyone else on the Internet.

When I joined my company’s marketing team a little more than a year ago, I was told to start reading blogs, commenting on them, and seeking out guest posts.

My reaction: Comment who? Network where? Guest post what?

I was new to the marketing/blogging community and had absolutely no idea where to start.

Sound familiar?

Here’s the secret: Regardless of your niche, you have to start with good, old-fashioned networking and relationship building. What you know is undeniably important, but so is who you know.

I want to share how I started networking so you can have a place to start your relationship building. Keep in mind there isn’t an exact formula to make friends. A year later, I’m still working at networking.

1. Grab a little guidance.

Your first option is to try a simple Google search with “[your niche] + blog.”

For example, if you write for a knitting blog, your results will look something like this:

This doesn’t list every knitting blog out there, but it’s a good place to start. Google deemed these blogs the cream of the crop, so other knitting enthusiasts will flock to these sites.

Also ask your supervisor, co-workers, or any business contacts what blogs they like to read. They’ll probably direct you to big names like Copyblogger, Problogger and Chris Brogan.

These are great places to start, but you’re not going to become best friends with Chris Brogan after reading his blog for a month.

2. See if you actually know anyone.

If you’re not completely new to social media, there’s a good chance you already follow a couple of bloggers in your niche.

Check out your Facebook subscriptions, Google+ circles, and/or the people you follow on Twitter. I like to scroll all the way to the bottom of my following list on Twitter, hit the control key + F (or command + F for Apple users), and search for “blog.”

Christian Hollingsworth and Jeremy Schoemaker were among the first 100 people I followed on Twitter. Considering they are flanked by college friends and news syndicates, they must’ve made an impact on me when I started out on Twitter in 2009.

Check out the users you find and their blogs. There has to be a reason you followed them. Visit a couple you find interesting.

If you are completely new to social media, add these bloggers to your Google+ circles, Facebook subscriptions, and Twitter following. Social media is crucial to relationship building.

3. Leave some comments.

Nobody is going to know you’re there if you don’t speak up. Leave comments on big-name blogs and any you pick up from social media. Compliment the author on the post (triple check to make sure you have the right name) and either pick out a part you like or pose a question.

Don’t be afraid! It may seem intimidating to leave your name and thoughts in a comment section, but people on the Internet (outside of YouTube) are generally pretty nice. Even if the blog owner doesn’t reply to you, other readers might be able to answer your question.

Also, don’t force yourself to leave a comment if you don’t legitimately have anything to say. Writers can smell a forced comment a mile away. It’s better for people to know you as someone who comments every so often with insight than someone who spams every post so she can get a backlink.

Are you still nervous to leave a comment? Don’t be. The trick is to get started. All bloggers have been where you are now, and as I said, they’re all generally pretty nice.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll link you to one of the first blogs I ever commented on. Looking back, I cringe that I ever put this in writing. However, it started a conversation with the blog owner, and I still talk to him on Google+. This comment was the beginning of a relationship.

4. Analyze blogs for other bloggers.

Now that you’ve eased into the practice of commenting, it’s time to really start networking.

Take note of two kinds of people on both big-name blogs and other blogs you stumble across: The people who leave comments regularly and/or help people in the comment section, and people who guest post on a whole bunch of the blogs you read.

These are the people you want to get to know. As Tom Ewer of Leaving Work Behind said, you need to network with those around you.

Let me give you an example that started on Kikolani.

Kikolani is one of the blogs my supervisor suggested I start reading. After a few weeks of reading it, a guest post by Leo Widrich from Buffer went live. It was about Twitter and blogging, which were two things I knew a decent amount about.

Widrich wrote an insane amount of guest posts to build awareness and buzz for Buffer, and I started to see his name pop up on just about every social media blog I read.

Since I dug his Twitter tips, I decided to start reading the Buffer blog. I loved the actionable advice in the posts and started to comment on the posts and share them on my social networks.

About a month later, Buffer posted a guest post by Gregory Ciotti. At the bottom with the author bio, Widrich added that Buffer was starting to accept guest posts.

I was so excited to have the chance to write for Buffer that I immediately started to make an outline for a potential guest post. I pitched it to Widrich the next day, and he accepted it. Over the course of the past year I’ve written three posts for Buffer, including my best-performing blog post ever: “7 Ways I Accidentally Got Twitter Followers (and 7 Ways You Can on Purpose!).”

5. Share your knowledge.

Now that you’ve been blogging for a while, made some new friends, and have a better feel of the online [your niche here] community, start sharing your expertise with others.

First, make sure you always reply to comments on your guest posts. It’s maddening to me that bloggers take the time to write a great guest post, send it to another blog, and then abandon it. It’s just bad manners to not reply to a single comment.

Second, many commenters ask questions on popular blogs. If there are tons of comments, the author doesn’t seem to be replying, and you have a good answer, feel free to jump in and offer it.

I did this in the comment section of a Social Media Examiner post last year. Someone asked how he could tweet while away from Twitter for the majority of the day. Since the post had more than 100 comments, I decided to jump in and offer my two cents.

My reply turned into a multi-comment discussion.

Best of all, David ended up coming to my company’s blog and becoming a frequent commenter. He still tweets many of our articles and comments now and then, and I have no doubt he’s driven traffic to us that converted to sales.

6. Don’t be a jerk.

Nobody likes a jerk.

People will want to connect with you because they find you interesting, helpful and kind. Feel free to disagree and challenge, but not in a harmful or malicious way.

Calling someone an idiot won’t get you anywhere. And do you even want to connect with someone you think is an idiot?

Let your kindness and intrigue shine through, and you’ll already be a step ahead of much of the Internet’s population.

Are you feeling better yet?

The Internet can be a huge, overwhelming place, but by finding some like-minded individuals and treating them the way you want to be treated, you’ll create new relationships in no time.

Have you tried any of these techniques? Do you still struggle with networking?

Mandy Kilinskis is a content developer for Quality Logo Products. A version of this article originally appeared on Kikolani.com.

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