As Bob Dylan once said, “The times they are a-changin’” and recently the pace of this change seems to be accelerating exponentially. This can make many of us feel like we’ll be left farther and farther behind. Networking is changing along with the rest of the world, but those not keeping up with the rapid change may be happy to hear that with only a few tweaks they can be competent modern networkers.
The Persistent Value of the ‘Old Way’
No matter how many new online social networks and apps emerge, they still cannot compete with the value of a relationship that has been built with a real handshake and a face-to-face conversation. Data consistently shows these contacts are much more productive than a casual email or social media comment. So, if these are all you have, don’t fret. You just need to be strategic about how you use your social media to complement these real relationships and about which contacts to build into deeper professional relationships.
Because of this continuing value of in-person contact, all the old methods are still valid. You should still go to networking meetings, invite prospective clients and collaborators out to lunch or coffee, and still shake hands and hand out your business cards. Until technology gets to the point where we are all disembodied minds that no longer make impressions face-to-face, these methods will be important. In fact, as the virtual world proliferates more and more competing noise, the value of commanding a person’s real-time attention may only increase.
That being said, modern social media networking cannot be ignored. It should be seen as a useful tool to supplement your real relationships and to reach out widely to those you may not otherwise have a chance to speak with. Your goal should be to leverage these wide, shallow interactions into more valuable and personal ones, like a phone call or lunch meeting. It depends on what your goal is for that contact, though. If you only intend to make them aware of your product so they become one of thousands of customers, this may not be a relationship to invest significant time into. But, if they are an important client, potential partner or supplier, then this should be a strategic end of using social media.
Do you need to be on 40 different networks though, and spend all your time updating profiles and writing messages to these contacts? No. In reality, you likely only need to focus on three social networks, and if you do these well, you will be ahead of the game. Here they are and what they are useful for in networking:
Facebook – See this as a more personal network. Posts and messages on here shouldn’t be too marketing-based because people sign-on to Facebook to see updates from friends and family. You should use this to occasionally update your friends and family on your professional life while not overwhelming them. Creating a Facebook page for your business and asking them to like it is an acceptable tool. Just make sure to keep it updated.
Twitter – Twitter as a networking tool is not as personal. It is a better tool for simply blasting out short messages to make people aware of who you are and what you’re doing. See Twitter as shouting out to the whole world. It’s a great way to reach a large number of people, but since it’s the widest net, it’s also the most shallow relationally.
LinkedIn – LinkedIn may be the best for actual professional networking. This is likely because that is the bald reason for its existence, so people aren’t offended if you reach out for professional reasons – as they might be on Facebook. Utilize this well to “link” to any important contacts you meet and keep up with what they’re doing. They will do the same, so make sure to keep your present resume, position and skills updated.