As someone who has interacted with thousands of people and has hop-scotched the globe on speaking tours, U.K.-based business coach Camilita Nuttall has noticed a change in how people network.
“As busy professionals, entrepreneurs are finding less time to engage outside of the office and home,” she laments. But that’s not entirely a bad thing; with people’s limited time to schmooze, she believes small talk has made way for deeper dialogue that makes more out of a new connection.
While relationship-building is emphasized more than ever before, Nuttall notes that social media is playing a larger role in networking, with people meeting online in record numbers. Today, the two can and do overlap in many ways.
LinkedIn, for example, is a great tool to find out more about event attendees (if you know who they are in advance), in order to “have a more meaningful conversation with the people you are meeting.”
Jennifer Beale, a Toronto-based public speaker and producer of networking events, believes that networking has become paramount in an age where the business landscape is rapidly evolving.
“Things are changing very fast in the marketplace. Nobody can stay on top of everything that’s happening. It’s a reason why networking is important – not just for opportunities, for access to information,” she says. “You’re going to be expected to find a way to do something different or better” to stay relevant.
What’s changed for the better in recent years, Beale explains, is the ability to forsake business cards for trading contact details instantly on a smartphone. Then networkers “can immediately book a time to reconnect right away.”
Another suggestion for modern networkers, is to acquire Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. “Categorize your contacts, list them, and know the people who you are likely to do business with,” she maintains. “Keep in touch with these people on a regular basis so you can help each other.”
Carl J. Woodin, CEO of AZtech Multimedia & Training Group in Philadelphia, explained a recent networking success story, based on a modern approach.
One of his former colleagues from several years ago had recently reached out to Woodin over email because he had been seeking a job at a particular company. Using LinkedIn, the colleague looked to see who worked for the company, and who was connected to any employees there. That connection was Carl.
“There’s a foot in the door this person would not have had if they didn’t use LinkedIn,” Woodin says.
Notwithstanding, one shouldn’t eschew human interaction altogether, he cautioned; the connection only worked because he had an existing relationship with his colleague.
“There’s still a connection you make when you have a live face attached to a face, attached to a personality,” he explains. “Until you’ve networked and know the right people, you’re just a Request for Proposal or resume sitting in an inbox.”
Ivan Misner, founder of Business Networking International (BNI) credits the online revolution with the tenfold increase in BNI members from 25,000 in 1998, to nearly a quarter of a million today.
Known as the “father of networking,” Misner says that the internet has changed how we connect with people. Today, it’s “not a question of networking online, or in person: it’s both.”
Online platforms, he says, are an efficient way to communicate with a network, as evidenced by a recent Facebook Live session he ran that attracted 3,000 viewers. He touts video conferencing such as Skype as a breakthrough that allows anyone to network for free to anywhere in the world.
He says the primary focus should be that “networking is more about farming than it is hunting. It’s about building relationships with people.”
Going a step further, Misner wants to debunk a popular misconception.
“You might think it’s who you know, not what you know. I think it’s how well you know each other. If they know you well, they’ll answer your call, and be willing to do you a favour.”
Viviana Kohon, a partner and Director of Marketing of The Symes, an event venue in Toronto, says her team has grown in the past year, resulting from personal and professional connections. Social media networking even helped her discover one of her business partners – through selling shoes on Facebook.
“Networking in our field, especially for female entrepreneurs, takes a less traditional approach. In the events industry, we’re always invited to and attending events, whether it is hosted by other fellow event planners, or industry events. We take advantage of these opportunities because you never know who you are going to meet,” Kohon notes. “The main tip here is to be approachable, memorable, and knowing how to capitalize on relationships.”
It’s clear that even as technology, particularly social media, changes the way we network and interact with one another for business, the human element remains crucial.
Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer