He Harnessed ADHD and Made Millions Social Networking

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Peter ShankmanPeter Shankman doesn't "suffer" from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He thrives on it. He uses it to drive his rabid social networking and from that created a business that was profitable almost at launch. He makes millions and helps hundreds of thousands with a unique service called Help A Reporter Out, or HARO for short. And his start-up costs were a pittance.

It's a very simple concept, actually, and that's part of its beauty. Shankman has both a journalism and a public relations background. He once served as an AOL news editor, then went on to found The Geek Factory, a successful boutique marketing and PR strategy firm in New York City with clients worldwide. He was constantly being asked to connect reporters with expert sources. Eventually he found that a good deal of his day was taken up with queries from reporters who were doing a story on, say, age discrimination in the work place, and who were looking for quotes from lawyers who specialize in this and people who had been victims of age discrimination.

He was so good at hooking up reporters and sources that he was deluged by requests. He started connecting them for free on a Facebook page. When his services outgrew that the light bulb went on. He thought of a way to provide this valuable service for free to others while also making it pay for him: Advertising. It worked so well he made more than a million dollars in his first year in business.

Three times a day he emails lists of reporter queries to his network of PR professionals and experts wanting media exposure. At the beginning of each news letter is a paragraph-long ad that Peter writes himself, promoting a website, product, book, or service. Those ads generally go for around $1,500 a piece, are sold out months in advance, and are seen by nearly 103,000 members, which include reporters and experts–an extremely targeted audience.

Sponsors claim their products have sold out, their Amazon book sales ratings have increased dramatically, and their web traffic has gone through the roof thanks to their HARO ads, and many are repeat advertisers. Do the math and you see that those query lists can bring in some $4,500 a day.

When he needs a break from PR, Shankman pours his energy into training for marathons and triathlons, and skydiving. He also wrote Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them (Wiley and Sons 2006), and he presents keynote speeches and workshops at conferences and trade shows.

With his extensive social network in place, Shankman's start-up expenses were extremely low. They involved putting up a simple website where reporters could post their needs, potential advertisers could view their options and experts could subscribe to the daily lists. He also hired an assistant to keep it all rolling. And, he could run the whole business from a couple of laptops if he wanted to-no office space needed.

Shankman gives half a dozen tips that could make your own social network pay off in a big way.

1. Listen more than you talk. In other words, rather than using social networking to continually put out information, use it to acquire information. For example, rather than tweeting that you're going to Starbucks right now, use Twitter for find out where everyone else is going for coffee, then join them.

2. Offer help. Rather than pushing your products and skills on people, offer to help them in your particular areas of expertise. This is a great way to establish yourself as an expert.

3. Learn from others. Pay attention to others' success stories, and figure out how to apply them to your own situation.

4. Spend time building your social network every day. It only takes a few minutes to send a birthday wish on Facebook, or to congratulate someone for accomplishing something they've posted.

5. Stay in touch with people even when you don't need something. If you haven't had any contact with someone in several years, it's rude to reach out to them out of the blue when you suddenly need something.

6. If you wouldn't do it face to face, don't do it online. For example, don't burden people with updates on your Farmville status or send cutesie hearts or fairies to your business contacts.

Shankman acknowledges that during times like these, it's easy to lose confidence and motivation and withdraw from the networking scene. But he says you can take comfort in the fact that everything is cyclical. "No matter how bad it gets, it will always get better. And when it does get better, be prepared for it to get worse again," he says. "The smart people are the ones who help others even during the good times, when there's not such an apparent need for it." That way, you're in a better position to help when times are tough, and "everyone wins."

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