The following article was originally posted by Aaron Corson at MarketPath’s Blog on 6/30/10. MarketPath is the marketing services division of NJC Printing.

Do you attend live (in-person, face-to-face) networking events? If you’re a business owner, salesperson or marketer you most likely do. Whether it’s your local Chamber of Commerce, a Networking Group (ie. BNI), an Industry Association, or something else, there is no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face to begin a business relationship.

I attend quite a few live networking events, in fact I have already been to two of them today. When I hand someone my business card, they often notice it includes my LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profile URLs on it. This sometimes spurs a conversation about social media. What I’ve noticed is that many business people that frequently attend live networking events don’t understand that social media sites, especially LinkedIn, can be used as a way to extend these face-to-face interactions and solidify the connections they make in the real-world.

Here are a few tips for using LinkedIn to connect live and online networking:

Use LinkedIn as your online Roladex.

When I attend a live networking event, I get back to my office with a stack of business cards from the people I met at the event. Before becoming an avid LinkedIn user, those cards would usually sit on my desk for a few days (or weeks even) before I sorted thru them. Most of the time, a majority of them would end up in the trash unless someone seemed like a really good lead for me.

In the last year or so, instead I take that stack of cards, sit down at my computer and start searching LinkedIn to connect with those people. I’ve found that usually 80% or more of them are on LinkedIn. If I find the person, I send them a personal invitation (more on that in a minute) to connect. That way, I have a permanent connection that can be used to interact with them at any time, AND I can then get rid of their business card without the fear of losing touch with someone that may have been a valuable resource or even a potential customer.

Offline networking isn’t that different than online networking.

Many of the people I meet at these events are extremely effective networkers that have honed their networking skills over many years of face-to-face networking. They get a large portion of their business from networking and are masters at building and maintaining relationships. They pass referrals, invite people to lunch or baseball games, participate in conversations and look for ways to help their connections in hope of reciprocity.

Online networking can be used in a very similar fashion. When you connect with someone using LinkedIn, you should then be using the same skills and etiquette to begin conversations, interact with them and continue to build those relationships that you would use in person. The delivery method may be a bit different, but the principals are the same.

Be personal and relevant, don’t be spammy.

When you send someone an invitation to connect, make it personal (don’t use LinkedIn’s standard “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” message). My invitation usually goes something like this…

“Hi Bill,

It was nice to meet you at the MHCC Networking Breakfast yesterday. I enjoyed learning about you and your business and look forward to getting to know you better at upcoming events. I’d like to connect on LinkedIn so we can keep in touch in the future.

Aaron Corson – MarketPath”

I know it’s hard to resist the urge to start selling at this point, but I think by focusing on them, rather than yourself, people are more likely to accept the connection. There will be opportunities to talk about your business and products down the road once you’ve developed the relationship.

Also, when you come across an article, product or connection that you think could be valuable to them, send them a private message through LinkedIn or email. This further builds your reputation as a trusted resource for people rather than someone that’s always pushing their stuff.

Join local groups and participate in conversations.

Several of the networking groups I am in have a LinkedIn Group (if yours doesn’t, you should suggest it or set it up yourself. It’s free and pretty easy.) Check the group periodically, post comments, ask and answer questions, share your content and be a resource for the group just like you would be in person. This strengthens your connection to the group and builds credibility around your area of expertise.

There is nothing wrong with throwing a few sales and marketing pushes into the mix, but just be careful not to do it too often or people will not take you as seriously. If you have an event, promote it. If you write a blog, post it. If you launch a new website, tell people. Just remember, providing value and being relevant will be much more effective than being spammy.

So next time you attend a live networking event, remember you could be talking to a person that will end up being your biggest customer, most trusted resource or even best friend sometime in the future. By connecting with that person on LinkedIn, you’re able to solidify a connection and build a relationship that otherwise could have been tossed in the trash along with their business card.



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