So you have some followers, some likes…now what? You now know people who can help you with a project, help you grow your business or help you learn something new. But you don’t “know them, know them.” So how do you turn those online relationships into fruitful offline relationships? I find it useful to make a plan for networking opportunities. Here are some things you can do:
Pick a place
Each month you can find social media gatherings in your city, or meetings of professional networking groups like PRSA or AMA. Check out www.meetup.com to find opportunities in your area. These provide a collegial, safe setting to chat in person. Chances are everyone else will be looking to make friends too, or at least meet a Twitter handle face-to-face.
Identify your goals
Do you need expertise on a project? Are you trying to generate leads? This is also a good time to identify what you bring to the table. Can you use your network to connect people? Be generous with your expertise and your own contacts, and you’ll do wonders for your reputation.
Gather your contacts
Do your homework. Scan through your social networks – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for starters – and identify contacts that you’d like to reach out to. Take note of where they work, their interests and their online persona. Take a look at the event hashtag to see who’s posting about the event or traveling to the conference. Maybe you can make some new online connections in advance.
Try to meet as soon as possible, that way you don’t miss the opportunity entirely. You might even have a chance to touch base a second time during the event or conference. Follow some key networking guidelines – be polite, be interesting and be brief. Make sure your business cards include your email address, your company or blog URL, and list your important social network identifiers.
A simple, unassuming follow up can do a lot to build your reputation and cement that new relationship. A “nice to meet you” tweet, Facebook post or email will suffice. An “ask” right out of the gate, not so much. Remember, networking – online or offline – is a marathon, not a sprint.
Have you met some of your social contacts in person? If so, share with us in the comments what has worked for you.