Are business cards a thing of the past? Is social media an effective way to network?
I’m new to the world of networking through social media and I’ll be the first to admit that its a bit overwhelming at times. There are so many “dos and don’ts” and the lists of best practices and lessons learned are never ending.
I’d used Facebook and Pintrest to post pictures and keep in touch with family and friends and I kept my LinkedIn profile up to date. I’ve experienced some moderate success with my personal blog without promoting it beyond my Facebook friends. However the concept of using these platforms to network and actually “connect” with people for business seemed a little absurd.
When I stop and think about it, it should have made sense a long time ago. Over the past few years some great friendships began on one of my favorite community sites for triathletes. Many of the people I met through the discussion forums are now my Facebook friends and some of us have even had the opportunity to meet in real life.
For the past couple of months I’ve been immersed in reading about and trying different social media networking strategies on for size. My LinkedIn profile has been tweaked at least a dozen times, my Twitter following went from zero to almost 300 in a matter of a few weeks, and my Klout score has bounced around like a super-ball.
I also took the plunge and not only joined a few groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, I started commenting on discussions in them. It fascinates me how you can get a sense of a person based on how they interact in a discussion group and by what kind of information they share. It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that there are a lot of people who use social media to gather followers, ask questions, and promote their own interests more than they share and engage.
Don’t get me wrong, I think social media platforms are a great place to do all of those things, but in my mind its more effective when one does both. I don’t think its a coincidence that my network of connections has grown and the traffic to my blog has increased at the same time I became more active and focused in my use of social media. (and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface)
In fact, I’ve met more than a few people through LinkedIn, which have already led to referrals and invaluable exchanges of information. One of these connections led me to a Facebook group called The Secret Team. The Secret Team is a group that was started by Chris Brogan and the purpose of the group is to create a place for professionals to “connect with people you can help, and find people who can be helpful to you.”
Last night one of the members posted a comment about networking events that generated a lively discussion about networking tools, including business cards. Some folks think they’re not important and others think they will always be around. One thing everyone agreed on is that it doesn’t do much good to collect a stack of business cards if there isn’t a real connection.
One comment led to another and soon we were sharing networking tips and making connections by confessing to storing business cards in shoebox containers for more than a few years.
My new connection was the first to admit the dirty little secret.
New Connection: “You all will make fun of me seriously after I tell you this secret. I had 3 shoebox containers full of business cards from 1998 till now that I was keeping (for who the heck knows what?!!?) that I just threw away this month!”
Beth Browning (that’s me): “That’s hysterical! Now I don’t feel quite so bad about carrying around business cards from the late 80’s from one job to the next and finally throwing them out when I moved to PA.”
New Connection: “Whew! There’s 2 of us on this planet then! Thank goodness it wasn’t just one crazy lunatic biz card hoarding chick like me!”
Her comment made me laugh out loud and look up her twitter profile at the same time, I felt a “connection coming on.” I added my twitter account, @sitesthatwork, to the Secret Team list and followed @NewContact on Twitter.
sitesthatwork: @NewContact “glad to have met you in the secret team – looking forward to learning and sharing”
NewConnection: @sitesthatwork “back atcha! It’s a pleasure meeting you too! Love the power of community, don’t ya”
sitesthatwork: @NewContact “gotta love it – it’s pretty darn amazing!”
NewConnection: @sitesthatwork “and how we’re having two conversations going on in two social mediums! Haha. Also, you know my dirty secret and I know yours!”
And that’s how it happens. A connection is made and information is exchanged, and good things start to happen. The connection may lead to nothing more than exchanging mutually beneficial information or it may lead to a joint project, or business referrals and sometimes it may turn into nothing (just like in ‘real life’). The key is to focus on genuine exchanges and not on accumulating a shoebox full of business cards or a massive number of followers.
Its kind of funny if you think about it. If you don’t network through social media in a meaningful way and just focus on gathering followers and fans its not much different than walking out with a stack of business cards at the end of a ‘networking’ event.
Is the exchange of business cards at networking events dead? My guess is, not any time soon.
Is social media an effective way to network? I believe it is, if you do it right.
There’s always been good and bad networking. I think what has changed is that we can now network with people all over the world – at any time of day or night rather than being confined to networking lunches and conferences and the like.
What’s your favorite networking story?
 The Secret Team = Facebook About Page – The Secret Team @ChrisBrogan