How do you take online connections offline? How do you meet someone, who you’ve connected with on Twitter, for a cup of coffee? Many entrepreneurs find themselves faced with this common challenge.
As social networking continues to entrench itself into mainstream culture, the need to bridge online and offline connections will grow. “Manta, an online forum dedicated to small businesses, surveyed 600 small-business owners nationwide and found that 78% say that using social-networking platforms is just as important as networking in person — if not more so,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Yet, eventually you’ll need to leverage your online influence into offline business results.
Since creating YFS Magazine I’ve met, consulted and/or partnered with hundreds of small business owners, entrepreneurs and global business leaders. Interestingly enough, many of those connections originated online.
Taking Online Connections, Offline
As a result, I’ve observed well-meaning entrepreneurs go about online networking haphazardly. In contrast, I’ve been on the receiving end of some great “e-meetings” which later developed into mutually beneficial relationships. It is essential to master the latter point, because as Mark Schaefer explains in a Social Media Today post, “The social web is an amazing opportunity to create small interactions that lead to larger engagements — meaningful relationships and business opportunity.”
According to an Academia.edu study by Mike Shenkman, there is a tremendous connection between online and offline relationships. His “findings uncovered that ‘the average American has 634 ties in their overall network and technology users have bigger networks,’ adding that ‘the average user of a social networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American.’”
If you want to improve your online-to-offline networking batting average, here are six practical tips to increase your social capital and take valuable online connections, offline.
Consider what you have to offer.
Are you aware of your core competencies, personally and professionally? The unique value you bring to the table that cannot be easily imitated or duplicated? Most importantly, can you contribute to the benefit of another – specifically, the person you’d like to get to know. If you don’t know what you have to offer, you’ll have trouble with my next point.
Seek to give, before you receive.
Your end game may be all about you. But that is not the message your potential contact needs (or wants) to hear. In fact, if it is all about you, you’ll send red flags. And where there’s smoke, there is bound to be fire. You see, successful people realize that reciprocity is essential to any productive relationship. If you know your strengths (what you offer) it is much easier to create value. And when you create value, you set yourself apart. You become relevant. Relevance begets meaningful and profitable connections.
Listen and join online conversations.
Now that you know what you offer and have the right mindset, you can productively listen and join online conversations. Build online rapport and follow people you admire on Twitter, retweet their content, like their statuses on Facebook, endorse their skills on LinkedIn and share their content on Google+.
According to Matt Oechsli, in a WealthManagement.com post, “Early adopters are using social media as an integral component of their relationship management strategy. It’s another channel for communication.” When you’re listening it shows. Trust me – you don’t want to be viewed as social media stalker with a random tweet here, follow me, check this out, yada yada. Which leads me to my next point…
Be thoughtful in your outreach.
We all enjoy connecting on our favorite social networks, but this shouldn’t replace the next step of formal outreach. You’d be amazed – or maybe you wouldn’t – at the number of folks that will tweet your ear off, but when offered a chance to connect via email … radio silence and tumble weeds abound. Tweets are great, but if you can’t put your money where your tweet is you will not be taken seriously, and instead gracefully ignored.
Cold emailing? Get to the point.
Before you hit send on that email – ensure you’ve done one extremely important thing: revealed your “ask”. Why is this important? People are time-crunched. No one has time to guess what you want or translate your morse code. In fact, a concise “ask” coupled with a “give” will elicit feedback much quicker than a lengthy “Dear Jane” covert ops email that could rival a trilogy. If you want to write an email that receives a response, or a 5-minute phone call, you’ll need to master the art of getting to the point.
Secure the all-important phone call.
How can you get someone to take your call? For starters, don’t ask, “Can I call you and pick your brain?” Successful people know their time is valuable; time is an investment and you must protect it. “I’ve never met a successful person who didn’t value their time, and I’ve never met an unsuccessful person who did (Benjamin Franklin).”
I’ve often heard that picking someone’s brain is equivalent to picking their pockets – and most people are not interested! Why? Because some people are on a brain pick mission “to gather as much free intel and knowledge they need … Forbes contributor, Adrienne Graham explains, “Not gonna happen, sorry. My brain costs money to maintain … I have to protect my investment.”
Now, before you grab your virtual pitchforks consider this: Successful people give of themselves freely by way of blogs, articles, newsletters, social media, conferences, etc. If they gave their ear to every single person that asked they’d be time-poor and remarkably unsuccessful. Instead, change your freeloader mentality and acknowledge the value of their time and yours. When you do get someone to take your call, steer clear of idle talk or unclear objectives. Delivering this kind of mutual respect puts you one step closer to bridging the online and offline networking gap.
Bonus: Get an introduction.
I’d wager a bet that you and I are alike in this regard: I am more likely to respond, heighten the priority level of a request, if someone is referred to me by someone I know, like and trust. When you receive an introduction, you essentially “level up” on your social proof. Consider networking from a business standpoint, “Over 70% of Americans say they look at product reviews before making a purchase,” according to Gregory Ciotti in a KISSMetrics post, and “Nearly 63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews.”
The same concept can be applied to online networking. When you receive an introduction, from a qualified source (someone your contact knows), you have intrinsically received a positive review and approval rating. Subsequently, the risk perception of a quick call, or strategic partnership, being a potential time-suck has exponentially decreased.