Because the title of this series is “Networking for Introverts,” the focus is on social media. Social networking, or online networking, is a style of networking that is popular among introverts because it allows us to blog, tweet, and post status updates from the quiet of our desk chairs and sofas. We don’t need to articulately deliberate over the national deficit while sipping martinis and munching canapés in some stranger’s living room. We can sit in our flannel pajamas, unshowered and with our hair unkempt, and expound on the necessity of m dashes, the pros and cons of self-publishing, and where to buy the best gluten-free cookies. We can share our deepest, darkest secrets with our thousands of “friends” and followers without worrying that they’ll judge us and without stepping foot out of our bunny slippers.
The problem with this scenario? Allison Williams, in response to my last blog post, “Does Social Media Sell Books?," said it best: “Most of us are going at it backward—we're trying to create online connections from scratch and hope they transform into real world connections. Instead, we should be meeting as many people as possible in the real world, and offering them something of value (whether that's friendship, fellowship, or good business advice) so that they look forward to hearing from us online. Nobody wants to buy @jane.x.smith435's book they've never heard of. But when they liked Jane that time they met her at a professional gathering, and she's sent them a couple of articles they're interested in (not by her), and they clicked over twice to her blog and laughed about something she wrote, they might mention to their other friend, 'Hey, this woman I know vaguely just wrote a book that I think you'd like.'"
I couldn’t agree more. As much as I love the comfort, ease, and convenience of social media, it’s no substitute for real-life connections. Spending five minutes talking to someone at a party is worth fifty comments on someone’s blog—and it takes a lot less time. This doesn’t mean you should give up on social media. This means you should use social media, as Williams put it, as your reinforcement, not as your front-line troops. Make a connection in person, then keep in touch with that person—via Twitter, Facebook, or your mailing list—to reinforce that connection.
Here are a few tips to making in-person networking pain-free:
1. Attend events.
Events don’t have to mean huge Animal House-style bashes with 200 people and a keg. They can range from a LitQuake reading to a baseball game to a moms’ nights out. Even kids’ birthday parties are a great way to meet new people. There are always parents there you haven’t met before. Introduce yourself. Make a new friend.
2. Carry business cards.
You never know where you may strike up a conversation with a stranger—on a bus, at the supermarket, in the park while your toddler is in the sandbox. And you never know where you’ll run into a friend who will introduce you to his/her friend. Be sure to include your website and Twitter ID as well as your email address and phone number on your business card. And ask your new acquaintance for a card, too. That way you can initiate follow-up if he/she doesn’t.
3. Don’t think of networking as networking.
The term “networking” has icky connotations. It implies that you’re only interested in getting to know someone for the mutual benefits you can later attain from one another. Think of networking as socializing, as making new friends and meeting new acquaintances. Don’t worry that you can’t be best friends with everyone. There is strength in “weak ties” according to Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. “Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency.”