Recently a financial services provider for Clockwork (the Geek Girls have day jobs at Clockwork) sent a note asking us where we network for business. I assume our contact was hoping to meet other small business owners like us and thinking that attending such events would be the best way to do that. Without thinking I started to answer, but it was tougher than I thought to come up with any kind of meaningful list of networking events that I attend regularly to connect with business contacts. I stopped trying and simply responded that the majority of significant connections I’ve made over the last few years have been made via social networking. In fact, I had tweeted only days prior that I was struggling with a particular experience with this financial services provider and, while I received several responses from competitors, I heard nothing from anyone from the brand itself. It was unfortunate, actually, because this is no small brand. In fact it’s huge. The idea that they seem to have a very minimal (if they have one at all) social marketing presence seems sort of backwards.
Later that day I did an informational interview with a freelancer looking to make new business connections for new work. While discussing her desire to find new opportunities and people in my network with whom I could connect her, I asked the question, ‘What are you doing with social?’ She responded by admitting, as so many people do, that she didn’t really see the usefulness of it — especially Twitter. I suggested that Twitter might actually be a very valuable tool in her quest for connections because, via Twitter, she’d have access to people she never would have opportunity to meet in any other setting.
Both of these conversations got me thinking about how some business and professional individuals still view social media. They see it as too much ‘social’, there’s not enough business value. The Geek Girls always say that we’re not here to sell our readers on social media. But I would suggest that those among you who still think it’s mostly fluff, might want to look start ‘listening’. Tune in to those people on Twitter that you know and respect in a professional capacity and then start to leverage their networks. See who they follow and start listening to more peripheral conversations. If you’re curious you should know that Twitter doesn’t work like Facebook because you can follow just about anyone. And if you decide to participate you have that option, as long as you are contributing in a relevant, authentic way. In essence, you can leverage your contacts’ networks to determine those among them that could be beneficial for you to know and, ultimately, introduce yourself to them and participate in conversations with them. It requires an investment of time and attention. But the opportunity is not insignificant.
When the Geek Girls are out talking to people about technology and social media I often talk about how we have opportunities to be better friends because of the connections social networks have enabled for us. I know that I am a better friend because of what these services bring to my relationships. Life is busy. Being a mom and a professional and a person with interests, social networks have allowed me to connect and reconnect with my friends on my terms. It may be late at night, I might be exhausted or in my pajamas, but I can make contact with my friends, catch up on their lives and their families and the things that are important to them, and remind them again that I care and I’m here. But these sorts of interactions are not reserved for our personal lives only. We can also make and foster new connections for business. And I would suggest that business networking is equally as difficult for some in real life for some of the same reasons. Using a tool like Twitter gives us access to people we need on our terms. We can learn from them, converse with them, make an impression on them, perhaps even influence them, all on our own time and our own terms. Perhaps even late at night in our pajamas.
I can join and participate in my professional associations, but my free time is so rare and so valuable that the events they produce really have to provide some serious value. Getting a babysitter or coordinating with the rest of my family or sacrificing family time or the time I need to actually get my work done are all difficult prospects. I am not alone. Most people I know are very selective about the traditional networking and continuing education events they attend. But when you consider the potential that social media offers, suddenly you’re confronted with the idea that there are now, for the first time ever, far fewer than six degrees separating each of us from just about anybody.
Don’t get me wrong, the Geek Girl’s also say that, whether you’re a brand trying to have a presence for social marketing, or a person trying to engage with friends, family or professional connections, we do not recommend that social networks take the place of real-time interaction. Social media is ‘in addition to’, not ‘instead of’. But wow, the potential for access and first contact is huge. Where you go from there is up to you. Don’t discount this social revolution on the web. It’s moving like this because there really is something to it. My recommendation is — start listening and see what you hear. And, if you’re the financial services provider I mention earlier in this post — call me. I’ve got a few tips for you.