Here's how to usher in a new era of social networking technology that helps develop better business relationships.
- Social media has altered our in-person social interactions, making people sometimes more engaged with their devices than each other.
- Social networking technology should augment, rather than detract from, our in-person business relationships.
- In a time when traditional networking can be a challenge, it's especially important that people can develop meaningful relationships via networking technologies.
- Here's how professionals can develop better networking habits that foster real relationships.
In the age of smartphones, actually making eye contact with someone – let alone having a real-time conversation – can seem intimidating. We're so accustomed to talking to people through our smartphones that networking has become more transactional than relational.
How has social media changed social interaction? You've likely walked into a restaurant in the past and seen tables of people more engaged with their devices than with each other. Maybe they were taking photos of their meals for Instagram or responding to school or work emails. Or maybe they were even texting each other. All those silent tables devoid of relational eye contact seem eerie. It comes across as not only rude but disconcerting.
The effects of social media on human interaction have been negative because our being distracted in another person's physical presence cuts into our opportunities to communicate. In-person conversations allow us to read body language, pick up on nonverbal cues, understand tones, and clarify what each person is saying.
And it's not just social media and younger generations. Business used to be about creating meaningful relationships, too. "People do business with people they like" used to be the saying. Sales and networking were all about building relationships first and making sales second. Now, relationships tend to be more transactional. There are undercurrents of "how quickly can I close this deal" when people email back and forth and "what’s in it for me" when contacts reach out via messaging on LinkedIn. Ironically, social networking technology has made it harder, not easier, to meet people in a crowded room.
Networking technology has to evolve
This is not to say there is no place for technology in networking. But social networking technology should augment in-person relationships, not detract from them. Building trust is integral to any business relationship, and Princeton researchers found that most people decide how trustworthy you are in one-tenth of a second. In a time when traditional networking can be a challenge, it's especially important that people can develop meaningful relationships via networking technologies.
One of the best ways to build trust is to think of networking as an exchange of value, not a one-sided favor. People are much more likely to help you accomplish your goals once you've offered them something freely first. That initial offer is up to you and should be based on your previous conversations with that person.
For instance, are they looking to meet someone at your company? Send an introductory email to the person they'd like to contact. Did they bring up an interesting question, idea or business struggle? Send them a relevant article or white paper link. Is there another connection in your circle it'd be helpful for them to have? Schedule a low-key lunch so everyone can get to know one another. Offering something of equal value turns your networking opportunity into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Unfortunately, many of these precursory steps get skipped these days. People focus too heavily on exchanging information and elevator pitches instead of actually building relationships, and technology hasn't helped professionals develop better habits.
Here's how you can usher in the new era of networking technology.
Facilitate true interaction instead of information swapping
Real social interactions help build your network, so make it a priority to meet up face-to-face. If you add someone on LinkedIn with little external context, they'll likely become an acquaintance you rarely, if ever, talk to. However, if you prioritize interactions accompanied by digital elements and touchpoints, it'll be easier to make contacts a part of your circle.
Networking technology should be as simple as putting on a name tag but more beneficial. The goal is to preserve authentic social interactions by enhancing real-life networking capabilities. For example, Bluetooth technology can be used to help people combine their physical and digital social worlds. As a bonus, auto-networking technology and Bluetooth low-energy solutions don't drain smartphone batteries (unlike GPS), which makes them much more user-friendly. All different types of networking technologies should amplify true interactions.
Support helping, cooperation, and collaboration
Like mentioned previously, when many people network, they fixate on wanting to sell themselves and forget to offer something valuable in return to the other person. If you can focus on giving rather than receiving, it will drastically improve your networking results. Forming a mutually beneficial relationship shows that you actually care about the other person as an individual.
Even if you don't think you need to grow your network, you do. It's important to use ambient networking to build your circle of influence long before you need it. Try reaching out to influencers or prominent professionals in your industry via networking technologies to see whether they'd be open to an interview for your blog or podcast. You might be surprised at how willing people are to help you out, especially if you're offering them free press.
On the other hand, if you happen to share a commonality, such as belonging to the same industry or alumni group, it doesn't hurt to reach out and get to know someone just because. Just make sure to keep the topic of conversation on them, not you. And if you do nothing else, take full advantage of the conferences you attend. Other attendees want to get their money's worth, too, so people are usually open to coffee dates or happy hours.
Foster the in-person experience
Networking technology is a tool that supplements the process. However, current tools are often used from a passive connection standpoint or not utilized at all. For instance, many conventions employ networking apps, but they're mostly used to access maps and agendas. Even if someone's info is available, people still rarely introduce themselves. In that example, technology should prompt conferencegoers to continue their conversations and relationship-building long after the conference has ended.
Consistent touchpoints over time are the key to helping people stay in touch and build meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships.
Start by forming proactive networking platform habits. For instance, if someone posts in a networking app about a job opening, think about who you could refer to the job poster, even if it doesn't provide any direct benefit to you. Or if you know you'll be traveling to a contact's city soon, reach out and ask if they have time to grab a coffee. Just do at least a little bit of homework beforehand to ensure your conversation is beneficial and valuable to you both. You don't want to waste a contact's time asking about basic information that was readily available online.
By using networking technology to facilitate in-person experiences, you get to know your contacts on a more personal level. So don't be afraid to take the plunge and reach out. At the very worst, they'll say no, and at the very best, you'll be able to expand your professional circle. The pros far outweigh the cons.
Current networking habits and platforms can hold us back from corresponding with live individuals and making professionals connections. That's why networking technology must evolve to facilitate, rather than replace, in-person relationship building. Dinners should have more eye contact than screen time, and conferences should prompt more coffee dates than text exchanges. But in order to properly shift, we all have to make a more concerted effort actually walk up to the people we want to meet.