I’m old enough to remember working in offices where my boss would have a big roller-deck of business cards – whenever he returned from a business meeting or networking event he would carefully file the new business cards into his alphabetized roller-deck; and if he needed to call someone to set up a meeting or follow-up a conversation he would flick through the hundreds of cards until he emerged triumphant with the contact that he was looking for. Another boss from the same era used to keep a red address book and would studiously write all of his contacts down.
Roller-decks and address books are obviously a thing of the past. The rapid pace of technological development has changed many things in the business world – not least of which is the way that we store and maintain our network of business contacts.
What hasn’t changed though is the importance of keeping track of your contacts and looking for follow-up opportunities to build and deepen your business relationships.
In many ways the developments in social media mean that you may not be proactively thinking about your contacts or actively managing most of your business connections. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter will routinely suggest new contacts to you – you may have communicated with them, know someone who knows them, or worked with them in the same organization or industry.
In addition, the way that information is shared across social media means that you may not be consciously thinking about what updates you are sending to your business contacts. Post on Facebook, update on LinkedIn, or send a Tweet and it’s probably visible to everyone – but then you never really know who’s read which of your updates.
However if you invest a bit of time and energy into your social media framework, then you can use the technology to your advantage – not only using the various platforms to share with the world, but also to actively manage your business networks and contacts.
Here’s a few tips:
1. Limit your personal Facebook profile to your friends and family. Create a public Facebook page that enables you to share information with colleagues, clients, professional connections, and the wider world.
2. Where the platform enables it, categorize your contacts as much as possible. For example of Google+ you can create ‘Circles’ and then share information with your selected groupings. There may be some updates that you share with all of your business contacts, but by having relevant categories set up it gives you the opportunity to tailor and target information.
3. Tools such as Buffer empower you to not only efficiently and effectively share information and updates simultaneously across multiple platforms, but also provide you with information about the reach and impact of your update – What’s the size of the potential audience? How many of your target audience read the update? How does that audience change if one of your contacts shares your update with their networks?
4. Actively engage with your contacts. Identify who are your highest value contacts and connections and follow their updates and activities (you can usually set up alerts to ensure you stay on top of what they’re up to). Make intelligent comments where appropriate, or post some suggested content on their profile or page: “I thought you might be interested in this article” is a good way of maintaining your visibility with someone and also demonstrating that you’re interested in similar subjects to them.
The principles of business networking and managing your contacts haven’t changed – but the technology has taken things to a whole new level.