Old School Networking Gets a Hand from Today’s Social Media

Before I started my practice, I was not fan of networking. I was happy that I started my practice in the era of social media, foolishly thinking that connecting with people on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn was enough to build a healthy client database. I imagined my name being mentally filed away in potential clients’ rosters based on my informative tweets and blog posts. It didn’t take very long for me to come back to reality and realize that if I wanted to make lasting connections, I would actually have to *meet* people. And social media was there to help me find relevant people to meet and make the process a whole lot more enjoyable.

Take, for example, Twitter. Over the course of a few months I developed a substantial list of people I followed, most of them based in the GTA and mostly in fields of law and technology. While I initially used Twitter as a means to keep up with developments in law and technology, I realized that it is invaluable in learning about different relevant events around the GTA. There is rarely a week that goes by when someone does not tweet about an interesting upcoming event, conference or trade show, some of them obscure enough not to be mentioned through traditional media channels, but still valuable in terms of developing good contacts.

Besides finding out about events, Twitter has opened up a whole new market for finding potential people to contact and meet with personally. I’ve met with quite a few of my Twitter followers either at events, or on a one-to-one basis. It’s not uncommon for me to get a DM (direct message, in Twitter parlance, which is a private message that isn’t part of your public message stream) from other lawyers or people in tech who would like to meet for a coffee and explore areas of commonality. Joshua Lenon (@joshualenon on Twitter), another solo lawyer on Twitter has taken this a step further with his #beyond140 movement, where he invites people from his Twitter followers out to lunch once every few weeks to go beyond Twitter’s famous 140 character limitation. This is a creative and fun idea for meeting new people who likely have the same interests as you, or are in your ideal client demographic.

A long standing tradition with Twitter aficionados is the “tweet-up,” where Twitter users meet at a local spot to get to know each other. These tweet-ups may or may not be the most effective use of your networking time, given the wide range of people who show up. However you can have limited-interest tweet-ups of Twitter  users with a common interest. A good example is #Beer4Bloggers, a group of  legal bloggers who meet every couple of months. It’s an informal way to connect with other legal professionals who are also using social media to learn about how they use the medium and also gain insights into their practices and make connections.

I’ve found using Twitter to be very effective in beefing up my networking opportunities. However, there are a couple of caveats. When it comes to networking with potential clients, the effectiveness of Twitter or any social media is highly dependent on your area of practice. A legal practice in business and IT law lends itself very well to using social media for networking. Today’s technology company is found on most social media sites, is internet-savvy and turns to the world wide web first when looking for services, networking opportunities and potential clients. This makes it much easier for a practice focused in this area to really leverage what the internet has to offer in terms of networking.

Also, leveraging social media takes time. You have to be committed to actually learn the culture of a social media tool such as Twitter to fully profit from what it has to offer. This means participating in conversations, sharing good information, listening to and promoting other users and being able to filter out noise.  I’ve been an avid internet user since it was born and social media comes naturally to me. However, you can learn social media strategies. But if you’re not committed to it, it’s best to find other avenues that better suit the way you work.

Real-life or face-to-face networking will never go out of style, especially in a service oriented profession such as law. Social media is a great tool to find opportunities to meet with people face-to-face and build up your networking profile. It has managed to convert me from someone who dreaded networking to someone who actually enjoys the process and looks forward to meeting new people.

20 Responses to “Old School Networking Gets a Hand from Today’s Social Media”

  1. Sapna, you make a lot of good points. Many people, myself included, will try and use online networking means as a substitute for in-person networking. I don’t think that will work. Social media can be great to establish a connection, but there needs to be a face-to-face element to turn that connection into a business lead. This is something we all need to work on.

  2. @aglaw Thank you for your comment, Adam. You’re right, there is a need for meeting people to build meaningful connections, but in affirming this tried and true method, too many people are quick to discounting the benefits of social media. Social media is not a substitute but it is a very good tool in your marketing arsenal if you know how to use it right.

  3. Great post, Sapna. I’m worried that the generation that has “grown up” with social media, as well as students in college now, forget this fact far too often. Meeting someone in person is the best way to make a mark, not matter how well you can write a 140-character tweet!

  4. @annedreshfield Thanks for your comment, Anne. People, especially the new generations, is using social media more in lieu of actual meetings. Sometimes this substitution is a great help personally (like I can keep up with all my school friends across the world much easier now that there is Facebook) and I can see how it works professionally if your clients are in geographically wider areas.

    My point is harness social media to help you make things easier, not as a replacement for something it was never meant to replace.

  5. @SapnaLawPC I absolutely agree. Hopefully students don’t start seeing meeting clients face-to-face as “outdated” or “what Dad used to do.” I think it’s still absolutely vital to any business relationship, and I agree that social media makes things easier. 🙂 I’ve moved several times in my life, and social media is sometimes the only way I can contact people from years past!

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience, Sapna. I agree, being in social media has made me more social generally. In fact, I was a shy extrovert who loved to share in online forums (listservs, blog posts, Twitter), and my in-person personality had to catch up with my online personality which was far more gregarious. When people met me in person they expected someone chatty and outgoing.

    It used to be that networking so often was done through existing groups and had a more clique-ish, “boys club” feel to it which was intimidating. With social media, especially in Toronto, it is now a lot easier to connect with people in person as well. I have never had such a busy networking life, with face to face events several times a week. Now it is just a matter of keeping up!

  7. @conniecrosby Thank you for your comment Connie. In fact you’re an example of a face-to-face networking contact that stemmed from our interactions on Twitter!

    Another way social media helps in networking is it’s a great way to break the ice! It’s so much easier to approach someone and say “Hey, I follow you on Twitter, I really enjoy your tweets” than to comment on how beautiful the weather has been. Since there’s already some sort of relationship formed on Twitter, approaching someone is so much easier.

  8. MonicaNGoyal

    Sapna – Great Post! In my experience the in-person meeting coupled with online engagement has lead to building relationships with people that in the past I may not have. I don’t know how many times people that I haven’t spoken to in months says to me, I saw your tweet, or status update.

  9. @MonicaNGoyal Thanks Monica. You bring up a good point. Twitter does help in keeping the relationship going with a contact that you’ve met. It helps to create “mind share” where you can still be visible to your contacts by your tweets even though you may not have actually kept up other forms of communication.

  10. Excellent post Sapna I agree that twitter like all other forms of social networking will not
    Replace face to face contact. However it certainly facilitates that contact coming to reality.
    Today potential clients rely more on the Internet, google,twitter etc then ever before so being
    Active there will enhance your practice. Thank you for this post

  11. @annedreshfield @SapnaLawPC “What Dad used to do.” I hadn’t thought of it that way. Any thoughts on what has to happen for face-to-face interaction to turn into “what Dad used to do”?

  12. @econwriter5 @annedreshfield I think Carolyn Elefant’s post on what old school methods didn’t work for her are great examples of “What Dad Used to Do” – those were all great ideas for a “quieter” time when life was at a more relaxed pace. These days there’s so much going on and so much information being thrown at you, that the trick is to give potential clients or networking opportunities what they want. Generic information and generic events are not going to work.

    With Twitter, you can really hone in on the people who would be interested in what you have to say – after all they’re following you and interacting with you already. Other methods that help you find people really focused on your niche are great ways of networking too.

  13. @SapnaLawPC @econwriter5 I’d agree with this. Gone are the days of meeting clients over 18 at the golf course — I don’t think today’s clients have the patience for that when everything is over email, Twitter, etc!

  14. Reading over the comments, one thing strikes me: people seem to think there’s an “all or nothing” method to networking. You have to use social media, or you have to just get out and shake hands. But what also strikes me is that many want to find a balance. They get social media is helpful, but is not an “all or nothing” proposition. Same with putting palm-to-palm. To do that, you have to know where to go, and social media seems to be another way to find that kind of information out.

    Social media seems to have also become a way to “break the ice” ahead of time, and turn less sociably-inclined (myself included) into more sociable ones.

    All of this is good, and it will be interesting to see how it continues to play out, especially with Google+ added to the mix.

  15. @econwriter5 I’m actually excited to see how Google+ plays out. I’m loving that (for me at least) it’s Twitter with conversations. It’s easier to find users that are more interesting to me, and I can actually see a conversation thread to make sense of the discussion. So far it’s pulled in the best of facebook (which I use only for personal reasons) and twitter and been pretty reasonable on the privacy. As more people get on there, it’s going to be a formidable rival to Facebook.

  16. @MarkCRobins Thanks Mark. Also, with the advent of Google+, I’m seeing whole Twitter communities migrate to Google+ to have even more meaningful discussions. I’m loving it.

  17. MonicaNGoyal

    I have to say I was a bit reluctant to take on another social networking platform, but Google+ is really very good. I also like the conversation aspect of it. The ability to create circles of friends, or followers or work colleagues seems promising. I hope this means that I only need to support one social media platform going forward, instead of managing twitter, facebook and linkedin.

  18. @MonicaNGoyal Social media seems to have become a full time job! Some people love integration tools that push content to all platforms, but I find they don’t work very well, considering how differently I use each platform. I have to make a conscious effort to limit my time on each and have a concrete plan on how I use each platform. It’s taken a while to get there -but it’s all firming up.

  19. @SapnaLawPC @MonicaNGoyal Become a full time job? For some of us, social media is our full time job! 😉

    I agree that Google+ looks very promising, and I also found myself thinking how great it’d be to only manage platform instead of multiple platforms. But, as you point out, there is that “use” factor. No one social network, at least for me, is used for the same purpose. Facebook is mainly family and friends, Twitter is my workhorse and LinkedIN, well, I haven’t made much use of it. I probably should.

    Google+ and its Circles seems like it can take over those, but I don’t think it’s there yet. Streams are a bit too unruly, collapsing lots of comments can’t be done and sorting people into Circles is quite an undertaking. It’s early yet, and plenty of room for improvement so we’ll see.

    Oh, and not only does each platform get used differently, but each also caters to a different audience. There isn’t always 1:1 overlap, either.

  20. […] Ever wonder how old-school networking (we’re looking at you, Mad Men) is helped by today’s social media tools? Sapna Mahboobani of Small Firm Innovation explores the changing tides of networking and how we can all adjust and learn new tricks, but not abandon the tried-and-true tactics of the past. Check it out here! […]