Follow up your social networking with face-to-face contact says Angela Casey, MD of Porter Novelli

Though I think many of us are probably relieved we no longer have to combine work and social in the heady style of Mad Men, there is something we can learn from them. Face-to-face networking might be less aggressive than in the male dominated 1960s, but it is still important for building a contact base. These days, as we all sit with our heads hidden behind a screen, is the art of conversation dying and is your professional community now just an online one? Are you maximising the opportunities created by your online followers and friends? 

I find that many people who are great writers and terrific online communicators are not necessarily the most gregarious in conversation. It is like book festivals – whoever thought that authors would be enchanting and stimulating people to listen to when by nature they are recluses? Similarly, if someone uses social media as their major communications tool they may not be a good client-facing consultant, company spokesperson or even business partner. So I need to know if I can work with them and I can only do that by actually meeting them.

Being in touch with current trends is vital in our industry so it is important that prospective employees and business partners are active on cyberspace. Being visible and demonstrating good social media nous is essential in being attractive to employers or business associates and connecting via social media is really valuable in finding people you can work with.

Social networking sites are working well for business. Time is tight and to network from your desk in a matter of minutes is very useful. For example, in the last few months we have set up a very successful Linkedin group for one of our clients. This site is enabling people within a specific industry to speak to each other, connect and do business. In some cases these people already know each other, but in most, they are finding and networking with those they do not know. When they meet at an industry event they will have an immediate connection which will make their real meeting more effective. That is when the true value of social networking comes to fruition, as an initial connection is already made so that when they meet they can concentrate on building trust. And trust is what leads to working together. So I am advocating the use of all these platforms, but only if you take advantage of the chance to meet up once you have connected – Tweetups, Twestivals, whatever silly name they have – they have considerable value in consolidating the relationship that was started online.

Something the guys in Mad Men might benefit from is, of course, “moderation in everything“, and the phrase still rings true. So a little bit of Twitter, a little bit of Linkedin, even some blogging, not too much Facebook (please!) are the way to go, and I strongly advocate adding in a good dose of face-to-face networking. All cities have their Tweetups or social networking coffee mornings and these are a good way of actually speaking to people and finding out what’s new, what’s going on and who is doing it. I also recommend that people should find their niche – whether it is being involved in a CIPR committee, a trade group, or one of the Tweetup style meetings. It is only by working with like-minded people that you begin to create a network that will take you through your career and give you support when you need it. Contacts are valuable, but only if they are genuine and only if you can pick up the phone and ask for a favour, or if they genuinely improve your professional life.

The bad news is networking can be really hard work! Not only in entering a room on your own and striking up conversations, but also in finding the time to do it and sticking with it. It’s easy to do online and to hide behind your screen, but if the real value is, and always will be, in the face to face, then that is the one where you have to make the effort. And it’s the one that will bring you greatest benefit. So there is no need to be Mad Men, but plenty of need to get out there and get networking 21st century style.

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