Facebook for business networking: it’s easier than you might think

I have a confession: I play, and enjoy playing, Zynga games. That’s right. Vampire Wars? Played it for two years. Then Farmville, and now Frontierville.

I’ll wait for you to stop cringing now. Because this is a business-related post.

Ready? Okay, here’s the thing. Because of these games, I’ve not only gotten closer to several of my business contacts on Facebook, who are also my “neighbors” in the games, but I actually spend more time on Facebook in general – which has led, oddly enough, to at least one of my business contacts pinging me on Facebook to chat about business or new work. Every week. In the last month, I’ve gotten feedback on my resumé, intel on two different agencies I’ve been looking at working with, and two new business inquiries. I’ve also built a Chicken Coop, an Inn, and a Schoolhouse.

There is, of course, a secret to this. I don’t allow the games to post to my Wall without permission, and I limit the visibility of the things I do publish to the folks I’m actually playing the games with, to avoid the inevitable “I hate you” from the various folks that hate the games. But aside from that, it’s really just about being available for a quick chat, and showing that you’re open to taking a casual approach.

I’m starting to think that this is one of the key reasons that more professionals are starting to turn to Facebook for networking. While LinkedIn is wonderful, and still highly useful for researching contacts, and finding leads from specific companies, Facebook has a much more human feel to it. If I find something amusing, I post it to my Wall, and a bunch of my friends comment on it. If I notice that one of my friends is having a birthday, I wish them a happy birthday, and they thank me.

It’s like the difference between the office happy hour and a Chamber networking breakfast. There’s a relaxed undertone to it that makes it easier to make genuine connections, which in turn makes it easier to actually do business together.

Is there a recommendation here? No. I’m not suggesting that playing Farmville will make you a better business person. But I am saying that, if you’re one of those who thinks that networking has to be all business, all the time, you might want to rethink your approach a bit.

How to Lose LinkedIn Connections

One of the things that has fascinated me about social media lately is the mirror that it holds up to our behavior in specific situations. Each site has its own purpose, its own sense of etiquette.

While I use Facebook a bit for my business (and have been getting quite a few requests for work from it, actually), it’s really become more of a personal outlet for me to share links, bits of fun, etc. with my friends and family. Twitter is for quick thoughts, status updates, and link sharing with my personal and professional network, and for getting answers when I’m stuck on a blog post, or a sticky Drupal/Wordpress problem.

LinkedIn is strictly professional. As I start moving towards the next stage of my career, I’ve started looking at it more, seeing if there are folks in my network who might know the people I want to meet at different agencies and studios. But there’s an etiquette to making the request. If I haven’t talked to someone in a while, I’ll start the conversation by asking how the person is doing, and engaging with them a bit before telling them what I’m up to and asking for the connection.

A couple of days ago, I got a LinkedIn message from a connection I hadn’t talked to in over a year – who Linked with me after the first time I met him and started sending me pitches for his coaching services almost immediately after we connected. After I unsubscribed from his newsletter, I had forgotten about the LinkedIn connection, until I received this message (paraphrased):

“Who do you know who works with a company that hires coaches? Thanks for any connections you can make.”

That was it. No “hey Dani, how have you been? I know it’s been a while.” I don’t even know if it was sent specifically to me, or was blasted to all of his connections. My response? I went into LinkedIn and removed him from my connections. And then I wrote this article.

The lesson here is simple: being online makes it easier to network, but it doesn’t change the basic rules of etiquette. If you want something from someone else, you have to show an interest in them first. You wouldn’t ask someone you just met at a cocktail party to give you a job, so why would you do the same to someone that you barely speak to online?

Networking: Why Face to Face matters

I’m a huge fan of online networking. I’m active on Facebook, twitter, Foursquare, and LinkedIn, a number of e-mail lists, and a few special networks for creatives such as Ember, Behance and Dribbble. Over the last several years, I’ve seen work requests come from around the country as a result of my activity online. As I start looking more carefully for projects that I’m truly interested in – where there’s a really cool problem to solve, or a really interesting story to tell – I’m realizing more and more that the secret to finding these jobs isn’t in who you know online, but in who you’ve actually met in person.

As an example, let’s talk about LinkedIn. As I start looking at agencies to partner with, my first thought is “who do I know on LinkedIn who might know someone at one of my target agencies?” After some research, I discover that two people in my network are connected to one of my targets – but one of them I only met a few times, and the other I’ve known for years, have collaborated with, etc. Instinctively, I’ll ask the person that I know “in real life” to give me more information about the person, make the introduction, etc. – even if the person I don’t know that well is much better friends with my target.

Why is this? Because face to face, or even on the phone, there’s a connection that you make with someone that goes much deeper than surface level. No matter how transparent you are (and I could be accused of being too transparent at times), someone that you’ve only met online has only seen a surface veneer, whereas the person that you know in your daily life, even tangentially, gets a much broader picture of who you really are.

The way that I tend to think of it is someone that you only see at parties vs. someone that you call in the middle of the day when you’ve had the worst morning ever and need someone to vent to. While it’s a bit of an extreme comparison, it’s apt – because if a business referral is going to be authentic, it has to come from a level of trust and friendliness that’s near impossible to achieve through solely online communication.

Does this mean that online networking is useless? Absolutely not – many of my best online relationships are with people who I’ve met at conferences, and still chat with via IM, Facebook and Twitter. But I will say that it should always be a supplement to, not a replacement for, getting out there and meeting the people you’re interested in talking to.

Choosing the right networking event

In the first couple of years of my business, I hit just about every networking event I could. Entrepreneur events, women’s events, corporate events, you name it. I got to know a lot of people, got to BE known by a lot of people… and burned out. Hardcore. I got to the point where I couldn’t handle another networking event, and pretty soon business started suffering.

When I finally got back to attending events on a regular basis, I became much more picky… and much more successful at finding qualified contacts for my business. Here’s what I learned.

1. Know your audience. Who do you work best with? Who do you want to meet? What industries do they work in? Find events that are specifically targeted towards the type of clients/customers you want to make contact with. Ignore the rest. One thing I realized during this process is that the best events for me are foodie tradeshows; they’re a great way to meet a wide variety of the exact type of clients I’m looking for – foodies – and I can collect a bunch of cards to follow up with after the show.
2. Give every event two chances (but be ready to drop it if it isn’t working for you). There are some events that will work really well for you; others won’t. Figure out what works best, what doesn’t, and use that to judge whether an event will work for you. And don’t worry about dropping out of groups; sometimes, it just isn’t a good fit.
3. Go to every event with some sort of goal. It’s easy to just show up for an event and hope for the best. But I’ve found that going with some sort of goal in mind – whether it’s to find three new leads or just to have a couple of really interesting conversations – leads to a much more successful (and much more fun!) event.

How do you find events?

The Etiquette of Handing out Business Cards

A friend just pointed me out to this interesting video from Syndi Seid, an etiquette coach in San Francisco, who shows the proper way to hand out business cards.

Some of the interesting points I noticed in the video:

  • If you hand out a card or take it with your left hand, it’s considered an insult. Always present it with your right hand or both hands facing the person you’re giving it to. Both hands shows ultimate respect.
  • In Japan, a business card is considered an extension of that person. To write notes on the face of the card, or to shove it into your back pocket and then sit on it, is the equivalent of doing the same things to that person’s face. Always take time to look at the card and comment a bit about it, then carefully put it away in your business card holder and write any notes on a separate notepad.
  • Pretty interesting stuff, isn’t it?