Networking. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s not like it’s a new concept after all. Rather, it’s been a cornerstone of good business since business began. But the explosive social media scene has gone and changed the game, adding options and opening doors to new methods of making connections.
“Strategic, professional networking is one of the most powerful methods of growing your business in today’s world,” says social media marketing expert Mari Smith. “What’s happened with the massive rise of online social networking is we created a fundamental paradigm shift in how we function, communicate and do business both online and offline. It’s now more important than ever to be highly versed in the skills necessary for quality relationship building; the new high-tech methods allow us to dramatically enhance our networking, but timeless principles of effective relating still apply.”
So with old rules and new methods in mind, we asked Smith and other pros where the art of networking stands today and how people can incorporate digital methods like blogging and tweeting with old-school, analog practices such as swapping business cards and attending industry happy hours.
Growing a Network with a Human Touch
“Anyone who has done business in the last 200 years or plans to in the next 200 years knows that human beings are the ones who make the decisions and the ones who execute the ideas and allow opportunity and growth,” says Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Crush It! and his latest The Thank You Economy. “It’s always going to be a human business, even within all this technology. And so the more people you know and the more people you deliver for, it will create a network effect that allows you to really grow.”
But Vaynerchuk says social media has made this network more scalable. “There’s no question that the fact that you can now network at 3 o’clock in the morning in your bed has changed that dynamic, and if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, it’s there for you.” Just as when networking in person, the key, he says, is getting personal. “I think that for all businesses, whether they’re B2B or B2C, the rules are the same. First and foremost, one massive don’t is bulk—blind reaching out for it. Getting an email that has no soul behind it usually does more damage than help. I’m the biggest fan of one-on-one scaling.”
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
“Be patient. Building a real relationship takes time,” Vaynerchuk says. “I look at it as the difference between a marriage and a one-night stand. There’s just so much more meaning in a marriage relationship, and that’s what every business relationship should look like.”
An Age-Old Art
“We act like we invented the concept of networking, which is patently ridiculous,” says Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room, Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World and The Secrets of Savvy Networking. “People have been recommending, referring and sharing information about products and services since time immemorial. For example, the old-fashioned barn raisings were neighbors helping each other; they are the essence of networking. In that regard, nothing’s changed. Networking is still a mutually beneficial process whereby you share ideas, leads, information, resources, support and, if you’re lucky, laughter.”
Be a Matchmaker
“Old-school skills, behaviors and manners will help you stand out from the crowd, but we also need to have a social media image,” RoAne says. “To be seen, get known and bring attention to our small businesses, we need to blog, post on others’ blogs, reTweet with savvy and make online intros. The best networkers are great matchmakers.”
Big Business for Small Companies
“The high-tech methods of networking give us opportunities to meet new people, to have direct access to our markets, to pull people in rather than just push out information,” RoAne says. “We now have so many additional methods by which to communicate that it’s wonderful for the small businessperson, who can appear to have a larger presence.”
Enriching Life, Not Just Leverage
“You read a Tweet, book or online post and say something complimentary or offer food for thought, and a whole new world opens up. You can make friends online. I have. Are these online friends the people you can count on to take you to the emergency room if you fall off your bike and break your arm? No. But keep on making online friends. Reconnect with old ones. They also enrich our lives,” RoAne says.
She offers this example from her own life: “Tamar Weinberg is a social media guru who was named one of the top 20 women in her field. My relationship with her started because I receive Google alerts on titles of my books. She wrote a blog and mentioned Face to Face. I read it and posted a comment. She wrote me back, as she was writing a book and saw that I had authored several similar books. Our communication was online, and I followed her on Twitter. Then, when I was going to New York City for an engagement, I emailed Tamar about getting together. I wanted to meet this wise young woman who is a reigning expert in social media. So I hopped on the subway and had a visit with her.
“Has it turned into business? Not yet. But my antenna is up for referrals to her, and I’m thrilled to know she is out there and I can benefit from her advice. There are some contacts we make and relationships we build that have value and are important beyond whether it makes registers ring. Woe unto any of us who build business networking relationships only with people who can line our pockets. Sometimes the payoff is information, support, advice or introductions. Or simply a nice cup of tea and smart conversation that expands our thinking.”
Taking It to the Next Level
“Businesses that blend both old-school and new-media methods for networking stand head and shoulders above their competition,” says Smith, author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day.
“To give you an example, any time you’re going to be attending an in-person function, here is a series of steps you can take: First, do your research online. Does the event have a hashtag (a special phrase preceded with a # sign that you can then find on Twitter)? Follow everyone talking about the upcoming event. Tweet to specific attendees that you’re looking forward to meeting them. Make a Twitter list of attendees, and Tweet about it to help others network with each other more easily.
“Identify key individuals you particularly wish to meet; do further research on this smaller group by finding them on LinkedIn, Facebook and through Google searches. Then subscribe to their blogs and e-zines. Check out these key individuals’ headshots online so you’ll be better able to recognize them when you meet them. You’ll also have gathered key nuggets over which to build rapport.
“Once at the event, be sure to have a mobile device and Internet connection so you can live Tweet the event, with the hashtag, and you’ll be adding value to all your followers, building further rapport with other attendees and creating coveted visibility with the event organizers.”
Hit Your Target Market
“Identify top tools to find people in your target market, potential strategic alliances and possible media contacts so you can connect with them,” Smith suggests. “For example, Twellow.com is great for finding Twitter users by keywords in their bio, category or location. And LinkedIn Groups can be very helpful for finding the right people to reach out to.”
Join the Conversation
“I’m very big on using Search.Twitter.com to see what people are talking about and then virtually coming into a conversation,” Vaynerchuk says, “like you’re coming into a conversation when you’re at a cocktail party. It makes it much more real and honest.”
The New Business Card
“Be sure to have all your social media profiles printed on the back of your business cards,” Smith says, “along with a color headshot on the front. This makes it so much easier for people you meet to continue your connection and for you to turn in-person networking into sustained online networking.”
Networking Saves the Day
Smith recounts an experience involving a random Tweet that paid off. “I was taking an Alaska Air flight from San Diego to a speaking engagement,” she recalls. “I got to the check-in counter only to be told my flight was delayed five hours. The flight itself wasn’t even that long, and I was frustrated at first. So I published a Tweet about Alaska Air, saying I was bummed the flight was delayed and that I’d inadvertently left my iPhone charger at home. Then I settled into one of the airport cafes and hunkered down with my laptop to get some work done. About 45 minutes later, a man came up to me and said, ‘Are you Mari Smith? We have an iPhone charger for you.’ I was stunned! Alaska Air’s headquarters in Seattle saw my Tweet and called down to the team in San Diego, who promptly went about finding me a charger. Afterwards, I Tweeted ‘UBER impressed!! @ AlaskaAir Gen Mgr Dan Flores @SanDiegoAirport just tracked me down w/iPhone charger. #theygetsocialmedia’ and continued to rave both online and off about their generous support. Alaska Air now has a customer for life.”
You Can’t Do It Alone
“Today, we network for pretty much everything we need and desire. You might be a genius in some areas of your life, but you’re going to need others to assist you where you’re not strong. That’s where networking comes into play,” says Bob Beaudine, author of The Power of WHO. “Each of us comes to a chasm in our business sooner or later that we can’t cross without someone’s help. Going it alone is like trying to speed walk on the moon. It’s hard to get traction. Conversely, tapping into your network is like walking on one of those people-movers at the airport. You just step on, and all of a sudden there’s a power underneath transporting you to your destination faster than you could get there by yourself. People are bridges you must cross to get where you want to go. They serve as catalysts. The value for business owners is that networking the right way can provide the power to help them achieve their goals a whole lot quicker than they could ever do it on their own.”
“The Dunbar 150 theory, which holds that humans can realistically only have meaningful relationships with up to 150 people, still prevails. The average number of friends that Facebook users have is 130,” says Smith. “However, for those of us who are natural connectors, as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, our ability to build meaningful relationships with hundreds, even thousands of people, is a breeze. Others can learn this skill, too. With reliable social customer relationship management tools, you can easily keep detailed notes on a vast number of connections. And tools like Gist.com and Rapportive. com display the social profiles of everyone in your social network and email inbox, making continuous networking easier and much more effective.”
Ask Permission First
“Don’t add email addresses to your list without express permission,” cautions Smith. “For instance, when you’re at a live event and you collect a stack of business cards, it’s OK to follow up with a personal email, but never, ever add the address to your mailing list unless the person has OK’d you to do so.”
Smith says making people feel special helps build relationships. “Take a genuine interest in everyone you meet and treat each person as a VIP,” she says. “Go the extra mile by glancing at their bio; find out even one thing about that person and make a comment on it, like ‘Nice to connect with a fellow Canadian!’
“Use people’s first names at every opportunity, whether speaking with them in person, on the phone, in an email or on Twitter and Facebook. A person’s first name is the sweetest-sounding word in their entire vocabulary, and it helps to build tremendous rapport when you say and spell it correctly.”
“Don’t be in broadcast-only mode all the time,” Smith says, “that is, only pushing content one way. Connection is crucial. Respond to as many people as you can in your network on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. If it’s difficult to scale the connection, hire a passionate community manager. “With online social networking platforms, there is this wonderful concept I call social equity. By being a person who consistently adds value, helps and connects others and contributes with no agenda, you continue to build your social equity. The law of reciprocity cannot help but activate; your efforts come back to you multiplied.” Just Listen “Let them do the talking. There’s nothing worse than coming away from a great networking opportunity realizing that you didn’t capitalize on the situation,” says Maribeth Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life. “Be sure to have more in your arsenal than small talk. Come up with a list of questions to get the conversation going, like, ‘What did you do for your vacation this year?’ or, ‘Where did you grow up?’ Once the conversation is fl owing freely, then you can move on to more in-depth business questions such as, ‘What’s the best thing that has happened to your business this year?’ and, ‘What’s one thing you’ve done that has really changed your career?’ ”
Get on Camera
“Make an impact by using video,” Kuzmeski suggests. “If you really want to capture your audience’s attention, record a quick video. Post it on your website or email newsletter.”
Keep It Professional
It’s easy to confuse the etiquette of various networking methods, but take heed: “Don’t be overly friendly,” Kuzmeski says. “It is never OK to use texting shorthand such as ‘LOL’ in emails to potential new networking contacts, no matter how informal your contact at the company is with you.”
Perfect Your Elevator Pitch
“It’s no doubt that you have a lot of qualifications and experience. But the hard reality is that no one—except maybe your mom— wants to hear that much about your accomplishments,” Kuzmeski says. “When you are networking and getting the word out about yourself and your company, you should resist the urge to give a 10-minute introduction. Instead, prepare a short, 15-second elevator pitch that hits on your high points and top skills. Think about what’s unique about what you have done and what will help you stand out from the crowd.”
What Does and Doesn’t Work
“I think we should take everything we have ever heard or learned about networking and just throw it out,” says Beaudine. “That’s right, throw it out, as in jettison, dump, expel, cast out. I can make such a radical statement because, based on my 30-plus years in the executive recruiting business, I can tell you unequivocally that networking as we know it is crap. It doesn’t work!
“Networking is a misunderstood term today because it implies friendship with people who are, in reality, only mere acquaintances. And you and I both know that when you’re in a crunch, it’s true friends that help; acquaintances just wish you well. If we really want to make progress in the direction of our dreams and goals, we need to consider changing how we think about the tired, old, wornout concept of modern networking. Non-relational approaches—faceless websites, handing out business cards to strangers at conferences like they’re mints or sending mass emails— just aren’t effective. Networking isn’t about the quantity of contacts you make; it’s about the quality of relationships you already have. These special friends you have right now, both old and new, are enough for what you need today.”
Leapfrogging the Competition
“In the competitive business environment we have today, you have to be known to be needed,” Beaudine says. “Networking, if done correctly, allows you to leverage yourself and your brand exponentially. All it takes is just one great mentor, coach or friend who’s willing to share an insight or make an introduction, and you can leapfrog your competition domestically or globally.”
“It’s still personal references from friends or from friends of friends that make the biggest impact. It’s still all about trust, and that can be delivered through references, endorsements and testimonials,” Beaudine says. “Each person you already know today links you to another and another. What’s amazing about online networking is that if you have 100 friends and I have 100 friends, we don’t have just 200, we have 10,000. That’s power!”