Whether building a book of business, pursuing a new job, or searching for love, we all have a fundamental need to connect. Now with the Internet being the primary tool for interacting with others, face-to-face interactions have largely given way to online exchanges. Given this reality, you may be discovering that navigating through a sea of social media can be challenging. At times, it can feel like a perfunctory, rote exercise, void of true meaning and significance. Unlike in-person networking, mastering the art of online connection requires some deft skills and savvy.
I’m not going to lie; as a 52-year-old who has been a freelancer since 1993, adapting to this new normal of connectivity has been an exercise in futility at times. Traditionally, my world had involved networking at events. Those of you around my age remember the days of slick sales pitches and folks with a repository of business cards to hand out. While these in-person pantomimes still occur, they have largely taken a backseat to the online competition.
The good news is that I have developed a framework that uniquely works for me within this new normal; one that has yielded a number of personal and professional connections over the years, as well as scores of business opportunities.
My 3 Lanes on the Connection Highway
Given the vast nature of the online social landscape, one can quickly get lost in a morass of places to build connections. So like entering the on-ramp to a highway, it’s important to quickly assess which of the three lanes you are going to use – and when.
Twitter: Laugh if you must, but Twitter is great for lazy-ass networkers like me. And I have generated a ton of business over the years from this networking platform. Because today’s rapport is often snatched in soundbites (think texts and messaging), the 140 character tweet limit is usually all I need to fuel a new connection. Just look at it as a squirt of lighter fluid, designed to ignite a conversation that you can then nurture. “
LinkedIn: This is probably the most valuable yet underutilized of all social media platforms. I’m on it constantly, whether connecting with two or more people in my network or engaging in a robust conversation on the community discussion board of my fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi.
Zapchain.com: Bet you haven’t even heard of this online community. I hadn’t until about a month ago, and it has now become one of my favorites. It’s an example of what is known as a ‘niche community’’.
So what three lanes sync best with what you’re seeking to accomplish in your networking pursuits? Pinterest? Facebook? Instagram? LinkedIn? My Advice: just pick three and stick with them.
OK, now for the 5 Keys to Building Connections Online
1 – Gather ‘Connection’ Kindling
Breaking the ice into a larger conversation with others shouldn’t be viewed as a painful undertaking. Rapport occurs when you find threads of commonality with others. That’s why I carefully study a person’s online profile and footprint, prior to connecting with them. I look at things like their college alma mater (bonus points if they are a graduate of The Ohio State University), areas of interest, books they’ve read via Goodreads, and other elements that can open the door to an authentic connection.
2 – Move Offline
Trying to foster a full-blown conversation via Twitter or LinkedIn can be awkward. So once I’ve established a connection, I quickly try to migrate to an offline conversation via phone, Skype, email or in person. The book The Tao by Twitter by Mark Schaffer has some rich insights on how to facilitate this.
3 – Share Without Expectation of Return
People LOVE to associate with folks who give. So make a point of sharing ideas, articles, tips and connections with others. I call this the ‘retweet, share and connect’ mentality. Check out Adam Grant and his book Give and Take for more on this.
4 – Be Consistent
New connections require regular nurturing in order to blossom. So once you’ve picked your three sites, make a commitment to be active on them on a regular basis. Ultimately, the goal is to have a swath of deeper connections versus going wide and shallow with large numbers of folks.
5 – Be Authentic, Interesting and Humorous
In my opinion, most posts and messages on social media are downright boring. Blah, blah, blah seems to be the order of the day. That’s why I love staying connected with interesting people like my liberty-minded friends John Logan Jones and his sweetheart Alexandra Renee. In my opinion, John had the tweet of the year in 2015 when he wrote right after surviving a natural disaster in Chile: “Saw the GOP debate on television after last night’s earthquake here. Very worried about the folks back home. Hope you are safe.”
#BeResponsible By Connecting With Others
Michael Scott is a Denver-based journalist examining disruptive themes fueling the new digital economy. More of his work can be found on his blog BitDisrupt