Networking has been changing as our personal technology does. Sure, you can still trade business cards, but rather than a litany of phone numbers and an office address, that slip of card stock is more likely to include handles for Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
Nowhere is this more visible than at professional conferences. These events are equally useful for education and networking, and social media has become a necessary tool for both the organizers and attendees. An examination of how social media’s role before, during, and after a conference is a great example of the changes currently happening in networking.
How Conferences Have Gone Social
Many conferences have incorporated a social level into their planning. As the date approaches, the hosts and speakers will use any and all networks to spread the word about dates and locations. Even attendees will sometimes tell their followers what events they’re going to.
These announcements help to give everybody some background before the event about the people they could potentially meet. It helps them to plan their time and schedule meetings in advance.
Once the conference is underway, the real potential of Twitter as a networking tool starts to shine. Organizers know that many participants will be tweeting about each day’s activities. They often create a unique hashtag to accompany those posts and make sure to encourage its use.
This is a great resource for everybody connected with the conference. The hosts can track what attendees are enjoying or criticizing and make some adjustments on the fly to improve the experience. Speakers and presenters get feedback about what people responded most to, both positive and negative.
But just as brands can leverage hashtags as discovery tools, attendees can do the same. The ability to observe who is tweeting about an event means participants can discover other people. The hashtags let individuals arrange a meetup with friends or new acquaintances, find out what’s happening at the far end of the convention center, or review the highlights after going home.
In addition, they can see the tweets of other participants and begin conversations with them. Event hashtags make it possible to network and forge new connections without physically crossing paths. This is a possibility at any time, of course, but the shared presence in a physical space acts as a catalyst for those digital meetings to happen. They offer a topic and a common ground for people who are passionate about the same ideas.
If tweets get coupled with other networks, such as Vine or YouTube, the event takes on a whole new multimedia angle on social. Visitors can still get the gist of any talks or demonstrations they missed. And most importantly, they can connect with the people who were there at any time.
Why Social Works
If business cards are your only marketing tool, then the chance to build rapport or have a conversation ends when the convention hall closes. The window of time for networking is finite. Social lets you easily continue the discussions from an event for hours or days after the fact.
Talking to somebody in person for five minutes, then sending them an email the following week may not yield a solid business relationship. But talking to somebody on social and having days-long conversations about subjects you both believe in will probably secure each person in the other’s memory.
Social media also streamlines some of the logistical work of solidifying new connections. Thanks to social networks’ built-in systems for organizing contacts, you can monitor who you meet at what event and follow up accordingly. You can even create lists or groups based around a shared event experience.
Social follow-ups from a conference also come with reduced need for context. Thanks to the character limits on Twitter and the brief space for a message when making a new LinkedIn connection, there’s no chance to write long-winded emails that the recipient might overlook. It’s easier to start casual conversations on social networks than on email or phone, as you would in traditional networking after an event.
Where is Networking Going?
Use of Twitter or LinkedIn as the top choice for networking isn’t likely to dwindle in the immediate future. Some technology, such as the now-defunct Bump, has proven that the process of trading contact information can be better that exchanging physical cards. It seems reasonable to expect that these tools will only get better over time. There may come a day when business cards will go the way of the dodo, and all we’ll need is a few public profiles on the most popular networks.
Until that day, be sure to have a card that includes your social media accounts. They’ll take you far.