By Rashmi Dubè, founder of Bishopsgate-based Legatus Law and author of the forthcoming book on networking offers advice on the art of networking during the digital age.
In an age where children are born into the internet world, where most of us access numerous social media platforms at the click of a button – does digital networking work? If so, is there an art to it?
I have been an active networker for some time as an active member of business groups such as Forward Ladies which recognises, supports and connects women in business. I am also an active member of Turnaround Management Association (TMA). My membership of the groups have been incredibly worthwhile for me. I have been able to meet a number of people who have both served as useful contacts and some have become clients; I have won awards and have strengthened my profile in taking our collective views to Parliament. But aside from the offline networking, especially in this digital age, what more is there a business owner can do?
I believe digital networking is now as important as face to face. This is because Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and even emails use communications technology that I would describe as “in your face”.
Most businesses want and need to be noticed, it is how we market ourselves and generate new business enquiries. And as a nation we’re increasingly craving attention whether we are in business or personal – just ask yourself when the last time you took a selfie is? And, even if you didn’t, when was the last time you saw one or heard about one. It has become a ‘craze’ that cannot be ignored. The same can be said of digital networking.
One of the big questions this prompts is this – with online socialising becoming such a quick way to network, do we actually need to meet any more? Social networking allows you an approach that is global and much farther reaching than just face to face. But the real art is the same as networking of any variety – knowing what it is you want to achieve and what your objective actually is?
If you are in business, this depends whether your business operates B2B or B2C and, in turn, establishing whether your messages are aimed at consumers or business people. One message does not fit all, one form of networking does not fit all.
Target your audience so that you know where they are. Will you find your next customer and community of support on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? This will vary depending on the sector you are in, for example a friend of mine owns and runs a very successful pub and hold music events. LinkedIn, being a professional platform has not proven useful for his venture whereas Facebook and Twitter are his world.
You therefore need to use the appropriate platform to exhibit your value. Let others know you are an expert in your field and share knowledge to build credibility and become known as the go-to expert in your sector.
Personally I think LinkedIn is an invaluable source for business professional. It houses your CV and provides testimonials advising on your expertise. However I would not recommend spending all your networking time on LinkedIn as relationships are strengthened with face to face meetings. It can be the door opener you need, it cannot close the deal.
Critics analyse whether social media is an efficient way for business people to spend their time. The truth is most businesses today cannot afford not to be online. And with some experience, social networking can and should become a daily practice.
However, to answer my earlier question, it is not a replacement – face to face communication cannot be replaced. No matter how good you are, sitting in a room networking from your laptop, computer or even phone is not a substitute for a face to face meeting which allows the other person to get to you know on a different level. The conversation widens from a particular topic to weather, football, music and other past times, which in turn can strengthen a good relationship.
We live in a global marketplace which is more accessible than ever through online networking but the digital arena alone is just that – digital not real. It can help you identify your audience, communicate with them and start the process of engagement. But the real benefits will come when you convert that digital contact into a real life contact. So follow me on twitter @rashmidube and say hello, but I also hope to see you soon.