Social media is an incredible channel for connection and communication. It’s where nearly everybody has put their focus these days as part of their marketing strategy, but let’s not forget that it can also be a tremendous tool for good old fashioned networking and relationship building between colleagues.
I first developed my affinity for social media in general, and Twitter in particular, through my involvement in the #eventprofs online community, about five years ago. Those of you who have been around for a while may well remember the roots of this community (and I hope you will share some of your memories, if you are so inclined).
What began as a series of online discussions between professionals in the event industry has, over the years, produced numerous conferences, publications, chats, podcasts and blogs, not to mention many deep and abiding business relationships and friendships. I’m not aware of any romantic relationships that resulted, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that had also been the case! (again, share your memories if you have any…)
Things are a bit different now. The airwaves have been flooded with commercial transactions, cultural memes and political agendas. But if you look closely, you’ll see that there are still plenty of opportunities to use social media as a way to build your professional community and create some authentic relationships in the process.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you work to find your people:
Relationships are a Two-Way Street
In business, we’re all looking to promote our work. We may have sales goals, or other growth related targets. The important thing in building relationships, though, is to have as much to offer as you are looking to obtain. In other words, it can’t just be about what’s in it for you.
For example, I’ve become quite disillusioned with LinkedIn groups. I have found that, except in cases where moderation is strict and specific in directing conversation towards more topical discussion, most people use the groups as platforms for self-promotion. I generally hear a giant sucking sound when I log onto the groups. It’s the sound of people trying to sell me things. I’m not interested.
More compelling to me are highly targeted Twitter chats, where the focus is to exchange thoughts and ideas on a particular subject. Much like the original #eventprofs discussions, I’ve often found these chats a great way to meet like-minded individuals working in my industry, or depending on the topic of the chat, people whom I wouldn’t mind getting to know in real life.
Promote Things That Get You Excited
I’ve long talked about the benefits of being generous online. When I feel psyched about a friend’s or colleague’s project or event, I go all out to spread the word throughout my circles. I’ve been a cheerleader for Kickstarter campaigns on Facebook, live tweeted presentations at conferences while I was listening, and blogged about events that I was really excited to attend.
As a side note, I should mention this – as a writer, I find that I do my best work when I am writing about something about which I feel genuine enthusiasm. Follow those impulses whenever possible and see where they take you. There’s nothing like the natural unfolding of connections while you are busy doing what you love to do.
All Work and No Play…
Here’s an anecdote. One time I attended a business networking function, and as I was on my way to the bar for my first glass of wine, a guy buttonholed me and started asking me about the level of insurance coverage among my staff. Dude, I just walked in the door, and you’re trying to sell me insurance? Nope. Please, do not do this.
Get to know people. The majority of solid business relationships are based on the fact that the people involved genuinely like each other and don’t mind spending the amount of time they’ll have to spend together in order to work with one another. It’s worth your time to make friends.
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