For the first time in what seems like ages, I recently attended a networking event. Having focused on growing my business over the past few years, I haven’t been as involved in the community as I like to be. But now that our firm is more mature, with a team of senior professionals, I’m venturing out more into the local business community.
The lunch meeting of the Association for Corporate Growth of North Florida was pretty standard—business professionals arrived about a half hour before the luncheon to network, meet new people and exchange business cards. The networking continued after we ate and I left with a handful of business cards.
Many have decried the end of this kind of networking in the digital age, arguing that people today no longer have time for the face-to-face meetings that generations before us relied on to build their businesses. In many ways they’re right—with expense accounts on the wane and work pressures on the rise, it’s harder than ever before to carve out time for anything other than simply getting your job done. In fact, a 2012 study by Robert Half Legal found that one in two lawyers said “power lunches” were less common than they were just three years prior to the study.
However face-to-face networking is still important. All else being equal, people choose to do business with people they know, like and trust. The difference today is that our online personas—our LinkedIn profile, bio on our corporate website, Twitter account and more—are intertwined with our offline personas. So how can you get the most out of “real world” networking in the digital age? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Establish a robust presence on LinkedIn. When I get back to the office after a networking event, the first thing I do is go through the business cards I collected and invite each person to connect on LinkedIn. I’m still surprised at the number of people who either don’t have a LinkedIn profile or have one that’s poorly constructed. I’ve made numerous business connections—and strengthened established ones—via LinkedIn.
2. Invest in a quality headshot. It’s a fact of life—looks matter. How you present yourself in person and online is more important than you know. Also, people want to know that the person they just met in person is indeed the person now connecting with them online. And to get a little nerdy, now that Google has released Google Authorship, a recognizable, quality headshot will affect your search results. Google says that “if you want your authorship information to appear in search results for the content you create, you'll need a Google+ profile with a good, recognizable headshot as your profile photo.”
3. Create and share content online. Write blog posts, share industry articles, or participate in chats. People now research professionals and businesses online more than ever before in their decision-making process. You can let them get a “peek under the hood” of what it’s like to work with you or your company by sharing some of your knowledge online. It’s a great way to extend relationships made in the “real world”—by sending useful articles or other content, you can stay in touch by providing value and not simply asking for another meeting.
So how do you network today? Is it a combination of in-person and online? I’d love to hear your thoughts on getting the most out of face-to-face networking in this digital age. Share comments here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.