Many people blame the rise of social media and online networking for the decline of in-person relationships, and they do have a point. It’s much easier to stay home alone than it used to be, and that’s partly due to screens.
However, the internet can also help build our real-life social networks, if we make good use of it. When it comes to networking, a combination of online and real-life tactics is more effective than either one on its own.
I find social media has 2 primary uses in networking:
- Planting the seeds of new connections
- Life support for old connections
Planting The Seeds of New Connections
In my experience, social media can be really good for starting connections with new people and organizations. Often when I put out a message on Twitter, for example, strangers respond. If I’m lucky, we might even get into a meaty conversation. One more than one occasion, I’ve encountered someone in real life whom I had previously only met through Twitter, and having that prior experience of them made it easier for me to break the ice in person.
When I know what kind of new connections I’m needing to foster, I often seek out the social media accounts of such people or, (more often) organizations. I then pay special attention to what they’re saying and promoting, amplifying and answering them whenever I can. That way, I’ve started building connection, understanding, and credibility before we even meet. From there, it’s easier to request that in person meeting. Or – if you’ve had interactions with someone online, it’s much easier to approach them at an event.
Life Support For Old Connections
There are many people – like extended family members, former coworkers, and past collaborators – with whom I would probably have lost touch entirely without our Facebook accounts to maintain my ties to them. In most of those cases, I have a general idea of what’s going on with them thanks to Facebook. LinkedIn acts, for me, as a sort of self-updating address book for my professional contacts. When people change jobs or contact info, they update their LinkedIn profiles and in that way, I retain the ability to find them if and when I want to.
In some cases, social media can allow you to maintain your tie to someone you don’t know that well yet. For example: you met someone once at an event, and you don’t feel ready to ask for a one-on-one or propose a collaboration. So you create a link through social media and wait. A variety of things could happen to enhance your link from there. But meanwhile, you’re keeping in touch, enabling things to happen.
Which Tool is For You?
Although I’ve mentioned Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook here specifically, it’s important to remember that all social media platforms are merely tools, and there’s no obligation to use any particular one. The best platform for you is the one that will do the job you are looking to get done. Ask yourself:
- Who am I hoping to connect with by using online platforms?
- Which platform are they most likely to use?
- Which style of online interaction best suits my personality and preferences?
And go from there. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn work for me, for now. You might be better served by Snapchat, Instagram, GooglePlus, etc.
Opportunities to Up Your Online Game
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a world of learning about social media, I recommend the iMedia conference, being held here in Edmonton next month. It’s chock full of great social media content, and also crawling with people who know a great deal about the subject.
We will also be working on how to leverage our online presence to amp up our real-life network at the We Hate Networking Club meetup this month on February 15 – sign up here to join us!