offline online networkingWhen I moved from Toronto to Barrie in 2010, I didn’t know a soul. Yet I never felt alone, because I’d gotten a head start on building a business community here. I used a Twitter directory to identify local business owners with related services, who were also active on Twitter (another thing we would have in common). I put them all into a private Twitter list and used Hootsuite to keep them front and center in my attention.
(Today I have two lists for my local connections, because each list has a limit of 500 contacts and I’ve outgrown the first list!)
Then I reached out and started conversations with those people. For some, that meant jumping into a conversation on Twitter, for others it meant sending a private email. Best of all, when I stepped foot into my first business networking events here in Barrie, I found people I recognized from my online travels. And that is still happening to this day.
Networking for introverts
Communicating online can feel safer, especially if you tend towards the introverted side of the continuum, like I do. Introverts also benefit from the asynchronous nature of blogging and social media, since we can take plenty of time to think and revise our words before we publish our thoughts. This might just make us the ideal social media mavens, suggests Nancy Ancowitz, author of Self-Promotion for Introverts®.
Social networking allows introverts to participate from our own quiet space, without being depleted by the energy of a room full of people. We can choose when and with whom we’ll communicate.
Giving up that control to attend face-to-face networking events can be challenging, but is also hugely valuable for deepening your business connections and developing new ones.
Breaking the ice
When you’ve been chatting regularly with someone online, you may end up seeing a lot of details about their life. This can quickly create a sense of familiarity and friendship, yet it can feel awkward trying to replicate that rapport when you meet in person.
Here are five tips that can bridge the gap between online and offline networking:
- Do your homework. Poll your social networks before events to find out who’s going to be there. For introverts, especially, it’s comforting to know who you can expect to see at an event. This will also help you plan ahead for the people you’d especially like to know better. Prepare by reviewing their social media profiles and business website, and go over some of your online interactions to refresh your memory.
- Make the first move. If you recognize someone but you’re not sure how you know them (those Twitter avatar photos are pretty small!), etiquette expert Deborah McGrath says it’s perfectly acceptable to start with something like, “Hello, I’m Deborah, forgive me, I know we’ve met, but I have forgotten your name.” She says that by taking the blame for our forgetfulness, it immediately changes the focus and balance of the greeting.
- Have a virtual coffee. For people you’re particularly interested in networking with, schedule a meeting using video chat software. This literally brings another dimension into your interactions and it will feel more natural when you eventually meet in person.
- Assume you’ll meet your readers someday. This creates a rapport that will infuse your offline interactions. Though we know it’s impossible for everyone in our networks to read every single thing we post online, we can still write with their needs in mind. In fact, I often picture my ideal reader sitting across the desk from me when I read my blog post out loud before publishing (an important step for catching typos and other errors). You can do the same with your social media posts, creating value and goodwill that people will remember when you meet in person.
- Embrace your celebrity status. Accept that when you publish content online, you become a public figure. Whether it’s a blog post, a tweet, or even a checkmark endorsing someone else’s comment, you’re putting yourself out there. That means people may know you even if you don’t know them. It felt strange to be asked, “Aren’t you Linda Dessau?” while standing at the sink in a public bathroom, but it reinforced that my content was being read, shared, remembered and valued, and that is what content marketing is all about.
What have you noticed about making the transition from online networking to offline networking? Do you have any tips or stories to share?
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