Face-To-Face Networking is a dying art… or at least that's how some people treat it. It's being monetized, sanitized and anesthetized to death. There is speed networking (speed dating type networking), business after hours, BNI, and a thousand other iterations of trying to get people together to network. Networking is about getting business people together in a open and social environment that fosters relationships and ultimately business! Generally, the ones that are successful and sustainable have three components:
- They are free or low cost
- They have credible connectors invited
- They have committed organizers
Also… Free Food or Drinks help!
Now don't get me wrong… I am a HUGE proponent of Face-To-Face Networking. In January, I started a daily blog called Bacon Bits, that offers daily 50 word networking tips. What I am NOT a huge fan of is using networking events ONLY as a form of generating income. What's your focus? Friendraising or Fundraising? Even if you charge as little as $5 to enter, you are restricting the audience. If that is your business, then I apologize, but free and open ones tend to draw the biggest crowds, and the best networking opportunities for all!
I was asked to help promote a Face-To-Face Networking event for a local chamber of commerce. The concept was simple. Create an open networking event that people, who were not familiar or members of a local chamber, could come and openly network!
It was poo-pooed at first, because Business After Hours had failed in the past. It was not about the cost, or the concept… it was because past events normally were only seen as an opportunity to network with the same 25% of membership that shows up to everything. So the bar was set low… if we got 25 people (out of 300 members) to show up, then it was deemed a success. Expectations were dulled because we did not have the usual 2-3 months to promote via post cards, newsletters and websites. It's not like those thing are not important or relevant (I am a huge fan of traditional media concepts), just things are moving a lot faster… now more than ever before!
What happened? It was a standing room only crowd of over 100 people (4x what was projected). Why? The power of Social Media. Here are the three reasons I feel it worked as well as it did…
- Social Media – Creating a simple flyer with the location, date and time just two weeks before the event, gave people the opportunity to share it with friends and co-workers. It was posted, shared, posted and shared over and over… creating a buzz.
- Social Media – It gives people the opportunity to share with THEIR influencers who may be outside the 25% influencer network within the chamber. That extends the networking opportunity exponentially (100 times plus) beyond what basic communications methods can do.
- Social Media – The event started at 4pm… at 4:15 pm there were pictures, Tweets, and Facebook posts that were telling fringe players, that this was the real deal and the place to be! Nothing is more powerful that showing people who want to meet new business people, that there is an active and just starting event, that they can still come to and not miss!
Face-To-Face Networking is not dead, and Social Media is not a replacement or substitute for it! It just goes to show how Social Media is a tool that can enhance Face-To-Face Networking and build relationships.