With all of the networking that takes place online today, it is sometimes easy to forget about the offline world of networking or vice versa. But, a careful combination of the two interacting platforms can be the fastest way to build meaningful relationships via networking.
For example, when you connect offline with a prospect at say a Chamber event, why not move to also connect online via LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. When you do this you’ll instantly gain access to a potential rich vein of information that can accelerate your understanding of the wants and needs of your new contact.
Connecting online via social networks essentially allows you to skip several steps in the traditional networking process and uncover things that might not ever naturally surface in the confines of the meet and greet format.
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes many face to face networkers make is to launch into a sales pitch the minute they meet someone precisely because they don’t have enough information about the person they just met or feel like they’ve only got one shot.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve learned about a common connection I had with someone through social media contacts or details before we ever started talking business. In fact, a few years ago I was preparing to pitch the CEO of a company on an idea and I learned through his Facebook profile that he had attended the college where one of my daughters was enrolled.
In this particular case (he was a rabid alumni) one mention of this fact pretty much tipped the deal. Now, good sales people have used this type of tactic forever, but now it’s just become so much easier.
And, you don’t have to look at networked networking as simply a sales tool, it’s also a great way to source vendors, get recommendations, make referrals and build a strategic partner network. Think about how easy it’s become to find out whether a potential resource has a good or bad reputation in the market.
Every business should employ Social CRM tools like Rapportive, Nimble or Salesforce so you can easily connect the social profiles of anyone you meet to their record or e-mail address. Listen and they will literally teach you how to connect.
Now let’s talk about how you can take a look at moving a online connections into an offline event. A great tool for local events is MeetUp. MeetUp makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face.
If you started a local leads group, you could use MeetUp to help facilitate the promotion and invitation of your referral group that also met in person once a month in your place of business. This could create a powerful network of strategic partners using a suite of online tools to build each other’s businesses passively while still connecting at a much deeper level in person.
Social networks such as LinkedIn allow members to create and moderate groups on any subject.
Some smart local marketers have picked up on this and created very locally based groups around a topic of interest. Of course the topic has the most traction if it has broad appeal rather than simply promoting one business.
If you can create a group that brings lots of your prospects and network together in support of a topic of interest you might find it to be a powerful way to drive offline behavior inside the group as well.
Networking today is a multi-dimensional, dynamic sport and the ones that are winning are standing out by brining high touch and high tech together.
For more tips on how to help build and optimize your business connections, access our exclusive video series with MSNBC: Networking: Making Connections to Build a Better Business.
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
Photo credit: Flickr/Scarygami