I wrote a post awhile ago about social networking. The main point I tried to make is that social networking has gotten a bad reputation. (If you don’t believe me, after you read this post, check out this article in The Onion.) Since this article was posted, we’ve had other posts about personal branding, what it means, how to do it, and what’s the point.
I want to bring the focus back on the idea of networking, however. While your personal brand is important for long-term success, it’s not mutually exclusive to networking. Your personal brand shapes your business personality, but social networking is the activity that gives you practice at building your personal brand.
I want to talk a little bit about how to network and not feel like a jerk about it. If you are in the right context, social networking is fun, fulfilling, and after awhile, you don’t realize you’re doing it.
First, what’s your personality? What are some things that you like or don’t like?
Are you shy? Do you like crowds? Do you like people most of the time and are you curious about people? Does talking about the weather make you feel furious?
If you are shy, or don’t like crowds but you want to get to know folks, don’t worry, you can still socially network. Bring a good friend to events to help calm your nerves. Also, I recently attended a meeting comprised of a small group of people interested in expanding the green education movement. The people worked in the environmental field in some way and were there to learn from one another and to see how they could collaborate. Since the group was small, we were all able to introduce ourselves and talk a bit about what we did, and how the group could help us in our endeavors. There are all kinds of small gatherings like these and I am sure in your area.
This leads me to my next point about how to network: What goals do you have for social networking in the first place?
Are you trying to find a job or explore new careers paths? Are you looking for volunteering opportunities? Are you a bit tired of your same old routine and looking to spice things up a bit by finding new friends?
Being at the right kind of event to network is important because your expectations are managed, and you don’t feel your time is wasted. If you are seriously trying to find a job, going to an internship fair might drive you insane because employers are there looking for, well, interns.
Don’t be afraid to email the contact person for an event and ask what kinds of people are attending the event. If you have a specific purpose for networking,mention that to the contact person to see if this might be a good fit.
When you are at the event, be prepared to say why you are there, be concise. If you need to, practice answering the question, “what bring you here today?” in a few different ways so you don’t sound like a robot.
Pay back the love. Social networking is definitely about helping other people. If someone mentions they are interested in landscape architecture, and your neighbor is in that business, connect them. Both people will thank you for it.
Lastly, give yourself a break. No one is perfect and suave all the time. If you’re new at attending events, get out there and have fun, and make it what you want.