Is Traditional Networking a Waste of Time in 2012?

With the value of social media networking and other Web tools, businesses should develop a multifaceted strategy that places greater emphasis on online networking and business development over traditional in-person networking and trade shows.

Networking

Building and nourishing relationships with clients, customers and professionals is an essential component of promoting your business. While traditional networking events such as trade shows and other social events have long been a staple of the business world, I have become increasingly skeptical of their long-term effectiveness. I’ve found that these networking methods are costly, time-consuming and rarely offer any substantial results. As social networking sites secure a stronger influence on people’s day-to-day lives, I’ve found that my time is often better spent using online communication outlets. Web networking is cost-effective and doesn’t require any travel or huge time commitments. By first taking advantage of online networking techniques, and supplementing this effort with traditional networking, your business can strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. This article will explain the problem with traditional networking, why social media and Web-based networking provides a solution, how to make the most of in-person networking, which events to attend and which you should avoid and five ways you can network and develop your business without leaving your desk.

The Problem with Traditional Networking — I often feel guilty for not attending as many business networking events as I think I should. Then again, when I do attend a business trade show or a general networking event, I often come back to the office and say that it was a complete waste of time. Most of these events are filled with salespeople and barely any real decision makers. Between travel time and attendance fees, I’ve found that traditional networking events are also costly and extremely time-consuming. These events take a lot of valuable time away from being at the office and getting other things done, including marketing. I usually come back from these events bombarded with business cards, without any genuine connections or prospects. It’s really not surprising that most business cards handed out at networking events either end up gathering dust in the office or at the bottom of the trash can. So what’s the solution? In 2012, my goal is to focus 90% of my networking efforts on social media and Web-based networking.

The Alternative: Social Media and Web-based Networking — Especially for professionals who have a limited amount of time on their hands for networking, using social media sites such as LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Google+ can be convenient, less time-consuming and effective. For those predominantly in B2B fields, I recommend focusing onLinkedIn because this site places an emphasis on networking with other business professionals. Through social media, you can engage in quick and frequent conversations with your audience. You can also get introduced to people who you otherwise would have never had access to. For example, you can request introductions with personalized messages through LinkedIn and search for fellow professionals in your industry using theTwitter search engine. Professionals can also take advantage of the LinkedIn Groups andLinkedIn Answers sections to share their expertise, engage in conversations and strengthen their credibility by posting on these forums. Social networking is excellent for meeting other professionals, keeping in touch with existing contacts and making initial connections, but it can never be as personal as direct interaction. However, online communication shouldn’t be your sole business networking strategy because it is not nearly personal enough. I believe that there is still a place for traditional networking techniques to supplement and make the most of your online efforts. The key is to be focused and attend the right events for you.

Making the Most of In-person Networking — Businesses shouldn’t abandon traditional networking events altogether. I recommend attending networking events where you know you will be in front of your prospective customers or clients. The following are examples of which traditional networking events are still appropriate to attend and which ones you should avoid:

  • What to Attend:

    • Events where you know you’ll be in front of your prospective customers or clients.

    • Events where you know CEOs and decision makers will be in attendance, not just salespeople.

    • Events that you know will attract your specific, niche target audience.

  • What to Avoid:

    • Large, general trade shows

    • Speed networking events

    • General Chamber meetings

    • Lectures

      • If you do attend lectures, do so for educational purposes rather than networking. However, you may want to attend these events to meet the speaker or network before the program begins. If you accomplished your goals, politely exit.

Once you’ve made an initial connection at a networking event, it’s essential to encourage communication using social media. For example, if someone has their Twitter handle orFacebook page name printed on their business card, try connecting with them after the networking event has ended. You can also request an introduction on LinkedIn or Google+by searching for the person’s full name or company. After you’ve reached out to your connections using social media, you can send private messages, engage them in conversations and keep in touch. On Twitter, you can also send your connections personalized tweets such as, “I thought you would be interested in this article…” or “What is your opinion on this topic?” Also, don’t forget to add them to your e-newsletter list.

Just as you should follow up with those you’ve met through face-to-face networking events using social media, I would also encourage in-person meetings with those you’ve met on the Web. After you’ve made an initial connection with a potential customer, client or professional, you can invite them to meet face-to-face, talk over the phone or have a conversation through Skype.

Before you leave the office for your next networking meeting, try these business development techniques.

5 Ways You Can Network and Develop Business Without Leaving Your Desk:

  1. Monitor Craigslist — Use Craigslist to monitor and respond to business opportunities. By setting five minutes aside at the beginning every day, you can easily browse to see if anyone is searching for something that your business can provide. If you find a relevant post, simply send an introductory message to the posted email, describing your business and how you can help the user.
  1. Participate in LinkedIn Answers and Groups — By participating in LinkedIn Group discussions and responding to questions on LinkedIn Answers, people will begin to see you as a thought leader and trusted source in your field. LinkedIn Answers is so valuable because, at traditional networking events, you may need to meet dozens of people before you find a question that is relevant to your business. On LinkedIn Answers, you can simply browse through questions and respond to what you can answer best. Not only will having this visibility and recognition on LinkedIn help you make stronger connections, but users will look to your business first, should they require your products or services in the future.
  1. Request Introductions on LinkedIn — Requesting an introduction on LinkedIn is a useful way to create new connections within your LinkedIn network. You can easily send and respond to introductions to those who are connected to the users that you are connected to. To do this, click on one of your contacts, search through this person’s connections for someone you would like to be introduced to and then click the “Get Introduced” button. You will then be prompted to compose a simple message to the person you are requesting an introduction from. By upgrading to a paid LinkedIn account, you may send messages directly, without waiting for an introduction from one of your contacts.
  1. Follow Up with Social Media Connections — Each time someone follows you on Twitter, becomes a fan on Facebook or connects with you on LinkedIn, don’t just ignore them. A tip is to send direct messages, thanking the user for connecting with your business and perhaps leading them to either your website, blog or another Web page.
  1. Participate in the Blogosphere — Blogging can also be a strong business networking tool. While it is important to frequently update your own blog, it is just as helpful to leave thoughtful comments on other blogs. You should strive to connect with bloggers in your targeted business areas. By sharing your expertise or advice with relevant bloggers, or on blogs that you know your target audience will visit, you can build powerful connections and relationships.

Wait, everything we just talked about cost you $0. Compare that to gas and attendance fees, not to mention valuable time spent out of your office. After you’ve taken advantage of these free tools, you can generate more leads and continue to build your business by developing Web advertising campaigns. To learn more about Web advertising, landing pages and email advertising, download our free guide, “Five Steps to Generating New Business through Web Advertising, Landing Pages and Emails.”

For more information, please contact The Public Relations and Marketing Group at (631) 207-1057 or johnzaher@theprmg.com. You can also visit our blog for more valuable articles, advertising spotlights and more.