By Stanford Smith, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Many passionate and hardworking social business operatives are making a business-killing mistake.

Proud of their impressive Twitter followings, Facebook crowds and Klout scores they are lulled into a false sense of security.

The rude awakening often comes when they try promoting their product to their audience. Suddenly, their enthusiastic following vanishes into thin air leaving behind crickets and one or two “mercy” sales.

Their error is simple. They have invested too much time engaging their peers and have overlooked their customers in the process. This social rut is easy to fall into, let’s see if you are in danger of falling into it yourself.

Pop Quiz:

  • Do you spend hours trading @mentions with people with profiles identical to your own?
  • Do you struggle to remember the Twitter handle of a customer but can rattle the usernames of 5 social media A-Listers in 5 seconds flat?
  • Are you afraid that promoting your product would offend 90% of your followers and blog readers?
  • Are you hoping that your followers will share their audience with you when the time is right?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions then you are in danger of being popular and broke.

But, don’t beat yourself up. I’ve been in the exact same rut. In fact, I started and shuttered two blogs before I realized that being social is different than “Social Business.”  Knowing the difference is critical to your success.

This is How Social Business Works

The world of Social Business is like your typical high school cafeteria.

Take a second to remember lunch hour.

Striding into the cafeteria you quickly made dozens of “life and death” social decisions. Sit with your friends? Invite the new kid to your table? Introduce yourself to the Student Government crowd or take a risk with the Jocks?

Depending on your social goals: getting a prom date, finding the best parties, not getting hassled on the school bus, you picked your “community.’

As a hormone happy teenager, I should have sat with crowd most likely to attract the cheerleaders’ attention!

Instead, I spent my time, dreaming and drooling from afar with the chess club geeks. My buddies were “Stand By Me” cool. We encouraged each other. We had our own language and didn’t miss an opportunity to hang out on Friday night.

But, my buddies rarely helped me get a date.

It’s easy to make the same mistake on social media.

Sure, it’s comforting and safe to hang out with people with similar interests. But if you are in business, you need to sit with a different crowd – your prospects.

Why Do We Get Trapped Selling to Our Navel?

It’s easy. We go to a popular conference in the name of research and networking. We meet some cool folks, share some raucous memories and head home snug in our mental rug.

Meanwhile, not one new person with cash and a purpose has been introduced to our blog. Oops. Not one person with signing authority has started to follow our Twitter account. Double oops.

Here’s the tough love. You should be networking and masterminding with professionals who share similar goals. You should not build your business on these comfortable get-togethers.

If you do, then you are needlessly delaying your success. You should immediately take a frank look at your activities and focus them on finding and attracting quality prospects to your blog.

How to Find Your Prospect’s Social Watering Holes

Finding prospects is a different game.

By nature, prospects don’t want to be found. They lurk in the shadows only making an appearance when they can’t afford to stay anonymous anymore. When they do step into the light they sign-up for email newsletters, register for webinar, or put you on the RFP list. Retweeting, commenting, and liking isn’t their style.

Like a lion on the Serengeti your best bet is to find watering holes, where your prospects gather to network, trade advice, and share resources. The watering hole location is different for every industry and prospect type:

  • C-Level Executives read top-shelf trade publications dedicated to their profession. Sites like the Harvard Business Review is a likely watering hole. Comments and guest post gigs can give you instant visibility with this crowd.
  • Passionate hobbyists hang out in niche-forums where they exchange tips and compete for social credibility. Joining these forums and being a resource for new members while discreetly promoting your expertise is a winning strategy.
  • Micropreneurs and service professionals like attorneys, home appraisers, coffee shop proprietors and insurance agents often run in packs. You can spot them congregating around LinkedIn Groups or following one-another on Quora. Answering questions on LinkedIn, creating niche-specific twitter lists on Listorious, and hosting free webinars never fails to attract their attention.

It Will Be Tough (but profitable)

By the way, if you blog solely for pleasure then hang out with whoever you wish.

But, If you need to show results for the time you spend on the social web then get serious about sitting with your prospects.

Make sense? What are your social business strategies for finding and attracting prospects?

Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large mouth bass.

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