We’re a pretty adaptive species. Just 32 years ago, our primary mode of communication was still the landline telephone. Now, we’re barely making phone calls. Texting during work meetings is a norm. K-12 school systems that once prohibited gum chewing now allow cell phone use among their students.
With so many ways to connect with friends, family and strangers, you would think our traditional channels of communication would completely shift in all areas of our personal and professional lives. Yet, 1.83 million U.S. networking events were held in 2012 alone (I imagine that number has grown even more since)– a form of communication so traditional, even the Romans did it in 700 B.C.
The human in all of us longs for belonging (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, anyone?) and increasing priority is placed on interpersonal relationships in today’s search for the recipe for happiness. Don’t miss out on this self-actualizing journey for yourself and crucial tactic for your business. Yes, it requires time and genuine effort, but the return on your investment is well worth the endeavor.
As you network in today’s digital world, keep in mind the following tips to utilize your time (and everyone else’s!) effectively:
Online vs. offline
Should you really pay to attend that networking event and dedicate two hours toward the potential of making a new connection? Is that industry-relevant Twitter chat worth your hour lunch break? Yes and yes. At a recent awards event celebrating the hottest startups in Austin, the keynote speaker, Erik Qualman, gave investment-seeking startups a lesson on the in-person vs. online networking conundrum. There isn’t a choice really, both are vital to your professional success. What matters most is the personal touch – meet someone at a mutual friend’s happy hour? Connect on LinkedIn with a note (and not the pre-populated one). Engage with a thought leader on Twitter? Find an opportunity to meet in-person, or make a point to meet them at that next social media conference you both attend. Traditional networking skills still apply in our virtual world – Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is still a top seller, after all.
Not all events are created equal
For the times you can make the in-person networking events, make sure it is truly a worthwhile opportunity. Not to get all Debbie Downer on you, but there are some seriously dysfunctional networking events out there. To identify which event is best to attend, take note of which events industry leaders attend. Does your local tech reporter prefer one tech meetup over the other 50+ options in town? Same rule applies for online networking: does the social expert you’re constantly retweeting participate in a specific Twitter chat? Start there. Having a clear goal in mind – “I want to meet the CEO of X company at this event” – can also aide in making the most of the chosen networking event. Beware of open-ended “happy hour” events without a clear focus, as well. A happy hour event with industry-specific individuals is one thing, but those “local professionals” events might not be worth wading through the crowd to find that connection you are looking for in a business colleague.
Cultivate your newfound colleagues
No matter the place of connection (virtual or real world), always follow through. This is not a one-and-done process. There is a give and take to relationships, and this approach remains true in the business world. Be a connector. Offer an opportunity. Check-in on your connections from time-to-time so when the day comes that you need them, they feel engaged enough to reciprocate. As Brian Honigman points out, we’re in an economy of favors and performing these gestures creates value for yourself among your network (great examples of digital & offline favors found here and here). One example of this is what Erik Qualman calls “post-it-forward.” Read a great article? Tweet it and tag the author. In need of a guest blogger? Reach out to someone in your network. Better yet, interview a connection as an industry expert.
When it comes down to it, networking is equal parts common sense and thoughtful strategy. Be yourself, smile and be a lifetime learner. With a goal in mind and plenty of dedicated time, networking can make a sizeable impact on both your personal career development and day-to-day business needs.