With South by Southwest (SXSW) right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about networking in public relations and want to share some thoughts on the subject.
Successful networking is a result of being genuine and having goals. Building a wide and strong network takes years. It doesn’t come overnight, and it is a culmination of a long string of proactive efforts. The payoff — building professional connections and making personal friends along the way — is well worth it.
It’s naïve to think that being insincere won’t yield results in networking. It can. However, you aren’t just building a network. You are also building your reputation. Do you want people to remember you as a fake or do you want people to associate your name with being trustworthy?
One of the biggest surprises I found from my years on Twitter has been the continual feedback that I’m “real.” I say surprised because at the time I wasn’t thinking about being real, but now I see it as one of my biggest networking strengths. I will be forever grateful to my Twitter friends for that.
So what does being “real” on Twitter mean to me? It means I don’t share articles and news with my network that I don’t find personally interesting. If I share an article it’s almost guaranteed I’ve read it first. It means I don’t follow/friend/link into people out of obligation. It means if I share something with my network, I check the source. People count on you to share reliable information. If I share an article it means I almost always provide the handle of the person who shared it with me.
It means if I’m having a bad day, my Twitter friends might know about it through a humorous tweet. It means if I’m passionate about a subject, I will probably share my thoughts with my network. It also means that I listen to other opinions and stay open-minded. I’ve learned so much that way. Most importantly, it means I’m human and when I make mistakes I’ll own up to them.
People appreciate when you are just being yourself. Find what being “real” means to you and start applying that philosophy across your networks right away.
Sharing Means Caring
“Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends” is one of the best networking books I’ve ever read. It talks about being genuine and sharing your knowledge without the expectation of an immediate return. I learned about the book in a post last year from Chris Brogan who, it seems from my interactions with him, applies these same principles to his own networking. Of course as soon as I finished reading it, I mailed it to someone in my network, asking that she too share it with someone else once she was done reading it. If you haven’t read this book yet, do it. You won’t regret it.
Even in PR, networking doesn’t always come naturally. We have to work at it. Networking should be a blend of online and offline interactions. Some results can be immediate but most benefits are likely to come after years of work. Remember, you are not only a PR professional for your clients, you are your own PR person, too.
Setting networking goals can be very helpful in expanding and strengthening your network. Here are some things I do to stay engaged and build my network.
Attend live events: I try to go to at least one local event each month. Over the years, I’ve built a network and forged friendships from this activity. My schedule is hectic, but I make the time to do this because it nourishes my network and knowledge base. I couple this with at least three trips a year. These can be conferences, visiting a city where some of my professional contacts reside, or even a friendly personal trip to strengthen ties with friends I’ve met online.
Groom your networks: Every month I comb through my online social networks. For example, I may look through my list of Facebook friends and find someone I forgot I was connected with. I might send that person a note to say hello, or if I deem it appropriate, I might disconnect. I like to keep my networks up-to-date and relevant, and find that my engagements are more meaningful and fruitful that way.
Expand your channels: In the age of social media it’s easy to put all of your efforts into your favorite social network. This is a mistake. If Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn shut down tomorrow, would you retain most of your network? If the answer is no, you need to cross-pollinate. For example, if there’s someone I’ve had countless exchanges with over Twitter and I find interesting, I may send a personalized LinkedIn request. If I meet someone at a conference, I’ll look them up on Twitter and start to engage there. If I get someone’s telephone number, I’ll save it in my contacts list. Keeping all of your eggs in one basket is a mistake and one every good PR professional should avoid.
Be easy to find: I might meet someone at a conference and lose their card or forget their name. I’ve reconnected with people before by being easy to find online. I do this a couple of ways. First, I use my real name on most of my social profiles. When people Google my name they can easily find my contact information. I also have a Google alert set up for my name so that if any false information about me pops up on the internet I can correct it immediately. While I haven’t yet found any false information about me published online, I consider it an insurance policy and simple a way to help protect my reputation.
Keep a list: I always have a short-list of people I want to connect with. I may have tried engaging online without success, but I won’t stop there. If I’m genuinely interested in meeting this person I will employ my network to help, either directly or indirectly. This effort can take years sometimes but it can work. For example, if there’s a person I want to meet and see that someone in my network knows them I may ask for an introduction. Or if there’s an influencer I want to engage with on Twitter who doesn’t follow me, I may start following other people they follow and engage that way. You get retweeted enough times by one of their friends, eventually you may pique their interest.
The Real World
Over the years I’ve learned that there are many people who share my philosophy on networking. I’ve made many friends that way. These aren’t just other professionals I’ve met online or from a conference. These are real people I could call when I need help and who could call me to return the gesture. I don’t just network to help my career. I do it because I want to help others, too.
It’s worth noting that as I was writing this post I received a direct message over Twitter by someone I met at a conference in 2009. He was writing to thank me for the advice I gave him two weeks ago. He included links to the articles that resulted from him following through on the advice I shared. I’ll be seeing him next week at South by Southwest, and I can’t wait to hear the whole story behind this most recent success.
What do you do to expand your network? Share your tips in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.