Social Media Is A Cocktail Party – 5 Tips For Networking Success

cocktail LEADING THOUGHTS As we are right in the thick of the holiday season, you have certainly been to many holiday parties and professional networking events, and there are more to come! With holiday parties comes the joy of celebration and the excitement of forming new relationships and meeting cool people. But also, holidays are responsible for anxiety around putting your best foot forward.

When I talk about social media, I like to say that it’s like a cocktail party. Even if you don’t know anyone on a particular social network or online community, you have an opportunity to meet a ton of great people and share and learn some great insights. If you know how to listen, how to approach people, how to break the ice, and how to nurture the relationship, your experience on any social network will go from so-so to full-steam-ahead.

If you are a newbie to a particular community, you typically won’t know anyone at the party. It could be a networking event for a conference that you’ve never been to, a cocktail party for a job you just started, or an industry holiday party.  Either way, you need a strategy to help you meet people and get involved in a conversation so you aren’t standing around by yourself. But you don’t know quite where to start.  So you start looking around for people you may know. Social media is much the same – you sign up for a new social network or a platform and start looking for folks that you do know. Of course, that’s not enough if you want to really get the most out of our social media party. Here are some tips on how to meet more people and start to build really great relationships.

  • Listen: In social media, as well as in-person, everything starts with listening. If you don’t listen, you risk ending up with a foot in your mouth. When you are at a party, you may mosey over to a group of people who seem to be discussing something lively. You will spend a couple of minutes listening and observing the group dynamics, perhaps wait for a break in a conversation and offer an interesting and relevant viewpoint. Same in social media. Let’s take Twitter for example. Twitter is one giant party, with millions of people talking daily. Obviously, you won’t talk to all of them. Your job is to find a sub-community that you can contribute to and get to know. I’d recommend start tracking search terms and hashtags in your Nimble or Tweetdeck. Over time, you will find some events and tweetchats that you can join weekly. Check out this post I wrote for more details on hashtags and tweetchats.
  • Find a way into the conversation: Just like at a party you wouldn’t join a conversation until it was contextually appropriate, and until you had anything good to day — same with social media. Ensure that what you are saying is providing value to everyone. If you see several people debating one topic, feel free to join in with all of them via a public group @ reply. Remember, you have to provide a valuable perspective — this is not the right time or place to pitch your product.
  • Start a relationship: After the conversation / exchange is over, make sure you follow the people you’d like to build a deeper relationship with. Chances are, if they feel the same way about you, they may follow back. However, different people will have different rules about following, so please don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t follow you back. If you are following quite a few people, make sure you separate those who are really important to you into lists.  At Nimble, we support lists and allow you to filter your social stream that way — this reduces the likelihood of missing an important tweet in the fast-moving “social river”. Check out Formulists to build some lists automatically and find some people that could be interesting to follow. For example, you can build a list of the people you talk to the most, people who are like you, people to whom your friends talk to, etc.
  • Become a resource: In How to Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie often talks about the importance of becoming interested in someone vs. being interesting. Same with social media. Become genuinely interested in the lives and endeavors of those with whom you want a deep relationship. If they need something, help them get it. Be helpful to them and the community as a whole — if you find something amazing on the Internet, share it. The more you share and participate, the more people will become drawn to you. Make sure you nurture your relationships and touch people often. The whole reason we’ve created Nimble is to allow our users to stay in touch with their networks, learning about what’s important to people in their networks.
  • Never sell: You never want to go on a social network or in a forum discussion and sell your product. An occasional offer or a special event for your network is fine, but don’t make it a habit to “pimp” your product in social networks. It’s OK to talk about what you do and how you solve a particular problem, if that’s where the conversation goes. For example, if someone asks for ideas on a product that does what you do, it’s OK to say that you do that. However, you don’t want to make that the only communication you do online. Most of what you communicate should be around solving problems in general terms as well as thought leadership in your area of expertise.

Happy holidays, and happy networking — online and off. I hope that this has been a valuable post for those who are dipping their toes into social media. For those who have been doing this for a while, I’d love to hear your ideas and examples of how you’ve grown your network. What worked? What didn’t? The floor is yours!