How To Take Your Offline Networking Skills Online
There are two ways to network in this day and age, ONLINE and OFFLINE. But the most powerful business relationships today are being formed by using a combination of both online and offline networking. I like to call it Integrated Networking.
Offline networking events are filled with skilled networkers and relationship builders who understand that in order to get, first you have to give. Many of these, let's call them Traditional Networkers, have been attending in-person networking events for 10, 20, maybe even 30 years or more. They are in committees or leadership roles within their networking group. They show up to lunches, happy hours, ribbon cuttings, fundraisers and gladly do whatever their group asks of them. They get bushels of referrals from their connections because they are trusted and reliable.
So why is online networking such a mystery to many of these same people that seem to have offline networking down to a science?
Let's first look at a few basic principles of networking...
- Networking is about relationships, referrals and reciprocity.
- Building business relationships takes time and effort.
- The more value you provide to someone, the stronger the relationship.
- You have to be consistent and show up on a regular basis.
- You need to look for opportunities to start and participate in conversations.
- It's more important to be a trusted resource than it is to show up and sell something.
- The best way to get referrals, is to give them first.
Skilled networkers understand these principles, but often have a hard time figuring out how to apply them to their online networking efforts. To these Traditional Networkers, Social Media appears to be either:
A) Just another advertising medium; a place to push their message and try to sell more of their product or service... after all, that's what it looks like everyone else is doing.
B) A silly communication tool to let your friends and family know what you ate for breakfast and thought about last night's episode of American Idol.
So to all of you Traditional Networkers out there, I offer an alternative: Social Media is a POWERFUL TOOL FOR EXTENDING YOUR OFFLINE NETWORKING EFFORTS.
So how can you make the shift from being a Traditional Networker to being an Integrated Networker?
Here are a few suggestions...
Look for ways to connect ONLINE with all of your OFFLINE connections.
When you meet someone at a networking event, go back to your office and Google them. Try to find them on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter and send them a personal request to connect. Remind them when and where you met and let them know you would like to keep in touch and continue to build the relationship online.
Show your online connections that you're interested in what they're doing
Like, retweet and comment on their status updates. If they have a blog, write a comment every once in a while to let them know that you appreciate their insights and the value they've added. Read and respond to their email newsletters, don't just click the spam and/or delete button instantly. Even if you don't need their service, it's still a good opportunity to let them know your paying attention to what they do and in turn, they will pay more attention to what you do.
Participate in your networking groups' online community
Many networking groups today have a LinkedIn Group, a Facebook Page or a Community Website. Show up there just like you do at in-person events. Look for opportunities to add value, start conversations and participate with the group.
An interesting thing you'll find is that often times the people participating online are different than the people that show up at live events. This gives you the chance to build relationships with even more people than just the regulars you see at the weekly/monthly events.
You'll also find that you'll start connecting to people you haven't met in person. Ask those people if they'll be at the next event and set up a place to meet face-to-face. Some of the strongest connections I have made, started online first and then carried over to offline.
Look for opportunities to do what you do best
For each interaction online, think about how you would react to the same situation had it occurred offline, then do that. If someone is looking for a product or service that someone you know offers, connect them to each other. If they are asking for input or feedback, give it to them. If they send you a request to like their Facebook Page, do it.
Here is an example of a twitter referral...
Make online networking part of your daily routine
Skilled Traditional Networkers understand that in order to get the maximum value out of their networking group, they need to show up consistently... online networking is no different. I suggest you make online networking part of your daily routine, like checking your email.
When I arrive at the office in the morning, after checking my email, I open Hootsuite (which allows me to see all my social networks in one place) and check for mentions on Twitter, messages on LinkedIn and Facebook or comments on my Facebook pages or blog that need to be responded to. I then share a few relevant articles to all my networks and get on with my day. The whole process takes me about 30-45 minutes a day.
There is no need to spend huge amounts of time on Social Networks... in fact, if you do, you're probably just doing it to waste time. Like anything else, if you keep up with it and make it part of your daily routine, it will soon become second nature.
As you can see, online and offline networking aren't all that different. Traditional Networkers already have a great skill set that translates beautifully to online networking . With a bit of time and effort, you too can make the transition from a Traditional to an Integrated Networker... just remember and apply the principles you learned over many years of offline networking.
Have you already made this transition and seen some positive results in your networking efforts? What's stopping you from being more active with online networking? What are some of your tips for using your offline networking skills in the online world? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
While your at it, feel free to connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Just let me know you liked the article and I'll connect back. Happy networking, online and off!