The Secret to Making Online Networking Truly Valuable for Your Career

Sep 25, 2012 -
You know the value of networking online. But while using tools like Twitter for networking, are you making the all-too-common mistake of leaving that network on Twitter? Or siloing your efforts so they only happen in the online world? Are you failing to bring that relationship offline? While there’s huge power in online networking, it’s really offline —or In Real Life (IRL), as some of us call it—that your connections have the potential to become true game-changers. Of course, you can’t always meet someone face- to-face, especially now that our networks often include friends across the globe miles and miles away. But you can usually find some way to grow what began online into something deeper and more meaningful. Once you’ve created even a smidge of a relationship on Twitter, here are a few ways to take it to the next level:

1. Communicate on other social networks, too

While Twitter is arguably the best social network for meeting people you don’t already know (as opposed to Facebook, where you’re likely to befriend people you already have some connection with), it’s not always the best place to have in-depth conversations. If you’re genuinely interested in getting to know someone, see if they’re open to connecting on Facebook, where most of us tend to let our personal side show more than on Twitter. Or, if connecting professionally is what you’re after, invite the person to connect on LinkedIn (and don’t forget to include a personalized invite that reminds them how they know you). That could give you access to their entire professional network, which multiplies exponentially the value of that relationship. Also look for other ways to interact online, like commenting on that person’s blog. That gives you the chance to show, in more than 140 characters, that you’re a thoughtful, smart person worth knowing, both on Twitter and elsewhere.

2. Move the conversation to email

Tweets work well for getting your foot in the door of someone else’s world, but they’re often not enough to get to know that person well. So when you want to deepen a relationship that began on Twitter, send that person an email and ask more about their projects. What are they working on? What are they excited about? What can you do that will help them succeed? Once you open that channel of communication, it’s forever open. And email is a valuable channel. Because down the line, when you recognize a way to work with that person or find that you could use their advice, you can simply reply to the original email, and they’ll recognize you as a friend.

3. Talk on the phone

Yes, people actually still do that once in awhile. And it’s an especially good choice when you’ve connected online with someone who’s not all that comfortable with the online world. If you offer a phone conversation, you’re giving them a way to chat with you while staying in their comfort zone, which means they’ll probably be more open with you. Of course, the phone isn’t for everyone; we’ve all had that phone call that turned totally awkward. But if you’ve got a lot in common with a new online friend and plenty to discuss, taking the time to dial their number (when they expect you to call) could work in your favor.

4. Suggest coffee or brunch

This only works if you live within driving distance (and yes, it’s worth driving a few hours for a high-potential networking meeting). Often, you won’t truly get to know someone until you meet them in person. You might have an idea of what they’re like from reading their blog or Twitter feed, but don’t be surprised if your lunch date doesn’t look, talk or act exactly like you expected when you finally sit face-to-face. If you’re not within driving distance of an online friend you'd like to meet, try video-conferencing over Skype or Google. That gives you the intimacy of a private meeting where you can actually look at each other, yet you can do it from the convenience of your desk. When suggesting this in-person face time, present it as though you have something to offer, even if you’re sure you’ll learn more from this contact than they will from you. How can you help them? At the very least, show the person how interested you are in their work and explain that you’d love to learn more about what they do. The worst experiences are always when you meet someone in person for the first time, and all she does is talk about herself. That’s enough to make you want to revert back into your online hole, right? So make sure you’re not that person. Ask lots of questions—and learn to listen.

5. Use conferences as an excuse

Next time you go to a conference or meetup, go out of your way to get face time with the people you’ve already established relationships with online. Sure, you can meet new people, too, but if you’ve already interacted with someone on Twitter, your relationship is now at stage two; you’ve overcome the initial introductory hurdle. The person already knows a bit about you, hopefully likes you and trusts you. Maybe even wants to help you. Coordinating online to meet in-person at an event requires a bit of work, as I learned earlier this year at the World Domination Summit. The people who get the most out of conferences tend to be those who sort through their online network ahead of time and prepare, even making a list of online friends they want to meet in person. After all, this is your one chance to have eye contact with the online personalities you respect and maybe even admire and to get to know them better. You might even take it so far as to go to a conference or meetup with the sole intention of meeting a specific person you’ve chatted with online (even if they think your both being there is a coincidence). That’s not crazy; it’s smart networking. And if that person ends up being a catalyst for your career weeks, months or even years after you shook their hand for the first time, you’ll be glad you went out of your way to strengthen that connection. Alexis Grant is managing editor of Brazen Life. Check out her online networking course, Become a Twitter Power User.