John Jantsch posed a question a few days ago, “Is networking online really that different?

Precisely. It’s not.

Networking is the best way to grow your contacts, your business, build sales and relationships. I’ve found that the more pervasive social networking tools are online; they still reflect the primary essence of personal networking. I have met countless people online, yet when we are able to finally meet face-to-face, it changes the relationship and deepens it. There is a shared commonality at first, but then a friendship ensues.

Networking Breakfastssocial networking
I’ve been a member of many breakfast networking groups, which I’ve always enjoyed. Meeting new people and visiting with acquaintances has always been an enjoyable draw to attend those meetings. It is also something that I miss, being so digitally driven these days. Nothing can really take the place of face-to-face interaction.

Back to the point . . . . One of the networking meetings that I attended opened every week with the introduction that we “do business with those that we like, know and trust.” That is the essence of networking and building a network of people. These are also three things that can’t be faked easily. It was easy to spot the people that came to the networking meetings expecting a quick sale. They would usually attend for about 3-4 meetings, but then quietly left. The potential of quick sales was not there, only the investment of time into other people. Networking isn’t a quick fix for sales; it is an investment in getting to know other people.

Another easy spot in the networking game is the “what can you do for me?” person. They realize that they quick sale may not happen, but you can’t talk to them without feeling as though they are sizing you up all of the time. With very little genuine interest in you, the conversation focuses on them. They like to keep score, and expect much from others.

Relationship First
John makes an excellent first point of networking best practices:

It’s never about the sale, it’s always about the relationship – build first by giving

Regardless of the social media website, widget, or campaign, building relationships always proves to provide longer-lasting results. It also makes a big difference as to who invites you to join new networks, as many people hold higher levels of trust and like-ability. People are more likely to take a recommended action when you have proven yourself to be trustworthy, like-able and knowledgeable.

Investments in People
Taking the time to simply talk with people is an invaluable investment that has far-reaching results. Many times, I’ve been able to visit with a networking group that I haven’t attended in years, but still experience a warm reception. That only happens when it’s about the people and not the business.

Business has to take a back seat when building relationships. Honest conversation and care is genuinely felt by others, and it is something not commonly experienced on a daily basis. A good networking group discusses more than business, but business happens naturally.

How do we take this Online?
Well, there is the question. How do we take networking online?

  1. Listen. The best advice is simply to search and listen at first. Find your market and sit back and listen to the conversation first. Don’t be “that guy” and jump into a conversation that you know nothing about. Listen first.
  2. Give. Contribute something of value. advice or additional support. Your first foray into a new network should never be a pitch. Rather, it should be helpful information that benefits the group, forum, discussion, whatever.
  3. Build. Build your reputation. Build your credibility. This is the time to establish yourself as a knowledgeable asset to the community. The more you contribute and help others, your estimation will increase. The help you provide will pay off down the line as an investment in your character.
  4. Respond. When the time is right, someone will ask you for a direct opinion. Or, something that may arise that will provide the perfect situation for you to assert your knowledge and prove an opportunity to “sell” yourself. However, the difference now is that you are a person and not a (gasp) “marketer”.
  5. Educate. Don’t sell. if you have followed the prior steps with patience, you can have the credibility to educate rather than sell, which always provides an opportunity to show yourself as an expert in your field. Educating is much more powerful than selling, and when it is done in the best interest of the community, it is welcomed.

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