It seems as though everywhere you look, there's another blog post, article, or news story about social media. If a person didn't know better, you might think social networking is the only way to connect with people anymore. Of course you do know better… right?
Social media is an amazing tool and can make a significant impact on your business, whether you're based online or have a brick and mortar store. But it isn't the only way (and, some argue, not the best way) to make a connection with your customers. Good, old-fashioned, face-to-face networking was the first form of social networking, and it's still an outstanding way to meet and engage with customers, peers, industry leaders, and prospects. What's interesting is that many of the rules of online networking are applicable to in-person networking. Here are some of the parallels:
Pushy Doesn't Work
Online, it's the person who posts his or her site or page on your Facebook page immediately after 'liking' it. Or it's the one who's more sneaky and posts a link in the comment of all your posts. Not only do page owners not like this tactic, it doesn't work with their followers either, because it's so obviously pushy and self-serving.
The same goes for the offline version of this, which often takes the form of someone shoving their business card in your face the moment they meet you. If you're only interested in selling yourself and your products or services, you'll put people off. You might not be banned from a networking event as you could be from a Facebook page, but just as there, you'll end up doing more harm than good for your company.
Be a Resource
One of the best ways to establish a network and engage with followers in social media is to become a resource. Sharing relevant, interesting content from others in your community or around the web and answering questions are a couple of ways social media pros develop a strong following.
When networking face-to-face, the same methods can be used. Approach everyone you meet with a "How can I be of service?" attitude. Find out what people need help with or need to know, and facilitate that. You'll establish yourself as a go-to person in your community, and those are the people others "go to" when it's time to buy!
Focus on Others
This is similar to being a resource, but it goes further. In addition to sharing content and answering questions, a very effective strategy in social media is to reach out to others to offer expertise and assistance, and to share others' content, even if it isn't relevant to your business. Promoting other people's businesses can be an excellent way to connect with a wider audience and build a strong bond with other business people.
You can be that person IRL (In Real Life) too! There always seems to be that one person at networking events who carries everyone's business cards with them. You mention you're looking for a good print shop, and he instantly has a contact that will take great care of you if you mention his name. Need a new hair stylist? "Here's the card of the best one in town," he'll say. The advantage of being that person is that yours is the business card people pull out when someone mentions they're looking for what you do!
Matthew Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur, and Investor. He Co-Founded YoungEntrepreneur.com along with his brother Adam. Matthew is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: “Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right” and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.