I recently met a high ranking partner of a professional services firm who was keen to embrace the digital age and improve his online profile. I had previously witnessed him skilfully manoeuvre his way around a networking event with charm, skill and alacrity, yet he seemed uncertain how to approach building his social media presence.

It struck me that there are in fact a number of similarities between the way we approach face to face engagements with how we build our online profiles. Here are some suggestions for bridging the gap between the two.

1. Which event to attend? Just as you would rightly give detailed consideration as to which networking events to attend, think about which are the most appropriate social media channels that suit your business needs. It is important to choose those channels based upon where your target audience can be found. Once you have joined the relevant platforms, it is also open for you to decide which online groups to join and which discussions or debates to participate in.

2. Research. In the same way that it is good practice to research the delegates who will be attending a networking event the same is true of building successful digital profiles. Take time to consider those clients, prospects and referrers whom you wish to engage with online and gather as much information as possible.

3. Assess the room. When you walk into a networking event you instinctively look for the ‘right’ people to start conversations with. A smiling face, an open group, or maybe an individual on their own. The online world gives you the opportunity to choose in a more measured way based upon points of commonality, expertise and need.

4. Introduce yourself. At a face to face event, initial introductions are vital. The way we dress, our body language and the words we use are all critical factors. How you introduce yourself, your skillset and your promise of value will impact on how you are received by your audience. This is sometimes known as your ‘elevator pitch’. Stripped of all physical signposts, your social media profiles need to convey the same messages – likeability, credibility, authenticity and being trustworthy. Your online profiles, in particular on LinkedIn, are demonstrations of why someone should be doing business with you.

5. Building rapport. At a seminar, conference or similar event, this might be achieved to a greater or lesser extent by seeking out points of commonality. Taken into the online environment, detailed and thorough research on Google or LinkedIn can often reveal surprising facts that you have in common with those you are seeking to connect with or influence – school or university alumni, mutual contacts or even a shared interest in a sport or team.

6. Listen carefully. In the face to face environment, this is often seen as a key element of building rapport. ‘Listening’ online means taking close cognisance of the online posts of individuals and groups that are relevant to you and responding in a timely and appropriate manner. Inevitably, this involves a consistent approach to embedding social media activity into your working day.

7. Be persuasive and influential. At a networking event this can be achieved by sheer dint of personality. Indeed your reputation may precede you. In the online world, your previous experience will speak volumes but ongoing credibility can be fostered by the authoring of content such as white papers and research articles that demonstrate your expertise to your chosen targets.

8. Following up. This is often the most important part of networking and is frequently overlooked. How often do business cards collected at such events remain in pockets until found months later? Social media provides the perfect forum to stay in touch with and nurture new contacts as well as cementing relations with existing and dormant clients. Your ability to provide your contacts with fresh insights and ideas will go a long way to building stable and long lasting business relationships.

For those of you who are skilled at ‘working a room’ but afraid or unwilling to dive into the murky waters of social media take heart from the fact that the two worlds bear many similarities and are not mutually exclusive.

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