If you’re entrepreneur, you’ve probably been invited to attend networking events.
Business-to-business (B2B) networking events are great places to meet other business owners.
These other entrepreneurs could end up being your clients one day, or they might be potential referral partners, or collaborators at some point.
In any case, connecting with other like-minded business owners at B2B networking events is a great way to build your business.
But, networking is a lot of work. And, it takes time and energy.
With social media, many entrepreneurs think they no longer have to put in the effort when it comes to networking.
They figure they can just meet new people on social media.
They can engage, build rapport, and close business – all on social media.
While this may be true to some extent, the truth is, nothing beats a face-to-face connection.
You are never going to trust someone you meet online the same way you’re going to trust someone you’ve sat down and had coffee with.
That said, social media can accelerate and enhance your networking efforts.
It can improve your reach, save you time, and build your network faster than you might have otherwise.
But, to be clear… social media DOES NOT REPLACE face-to-face in-person networking. It accelerates it. It improves it. It empowers it.
But, it does not replace it.
Here are just a few ways you can leverage social media to take your in-person networking to the next level and get more return on your investment…
Before the networking event
1. Audit your social media profiles
First and foremost, make sure all your social media profiles are in order and up-to-date.
That means all the information on your bio pages is current, accurate, and professional.
No broken links.
No goofy pictures.
No contradictions or inconsistencies in your branding.
Furthermore, you want to make sure your social media platforms are loaded up with great content, aimed at helping and adding value to those you plan on meeting at the networking event.
If you’re really smart and prepared, you’ll have a lead magnet in place – such an ebook – that will entice people to come to your social media profile page, submit their email address, and stay in touch with you.
The goal here is that when you meet someone new, and they take an interest in seeing what you are up to on social media, you want to make sure, well in advance, that you don’t blow your one chance at making a great first impression.
Prepare your social media platforms ahead of time to ensure a smooth social media networking campaign during and after the event.
2. Break the ice
Many organizers of networking events will have social media platforms of their own.
Follow the organizers on social media and find out if any conversations are happening on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Join in and help build up some hype for the upcoming event by sharing event news on your own social media platforms (the organizers will love you for this).
You can also start following any keynote speakers or public personalities who are involved.
If there is a private group or a business page for the event, make yourself known to other attendees and generally let everyone know that you are excited about attending the event and looking forward to meeting everyone in person.
Gently introduce yourself, but don’t try to pitch or sell anything.
At this point, you don’t need to track down the individual attendees and follow or connect with them just yet – in fact, if you do, you might come across as pushy.
You can play it cool for now.
3. Do some background checks
Okay, this part might sound a bit like stalking – but don’t worry, it isn’t.
Scrolling through the social media feeds of the other attendees can give you a great idea of the individuals you want to meet at the upcoming networking event.
After all, unless it’s a small event, you are not going to be able to connect with every single person in attendance.
Time to mingle will be limited.
So, doing some reconnaissance will help you zero in on the key people you want to talk to. Find the people you can help with your product or service (or who can lead you to those you can help).
Also, you can figure out some topics of conversation in advance based on the sort of content they are posting on social media.
During the networking event
4. Live post while you’re at the event
Once you’re at the networking event, it’s go-time.
Resist the temptation to be absorbed by your phone and be present so you can meet and properly engage with new people.
You will, however, want to post some pictures and video of the event to your social media outlets.
You don’t have to go nuts and feel like you’re a live correspondent, though.
Remember – it is far more important that you are present, meeting people and engaging in meaningful conversations.
If it seems overwhelming, now would be a good time to have a social media manager (who is either at the event in person or handling everything virtually) who can take care of some of your live posting for you.
Tag some people you connect with, and the people of influence (like the organizers and the speakers) who are at the event in your posts.
Use the event hashtag EVERYWHERE.
While you don’t want to be buried in your phone, you might discover that there are live conversations happening online while you’re at the event and this is also a great way to meet with and engage people.
5. Mingle like a boss
When you are mingling and meeting new people, focus on having meaningful conversations, rather than trying to work the entire room.
Ideally, you’ve done enough social media reconnaissance before the event and you can find the people you truly want to meet.
Once you’ve had some good conversations and it feels comfortable to do so, you can mention that you have content on your social media pages that could be of value to the people you are chatting with.
Remember, you don’t want to come off like you’re trying to build your follower base (even though you are), because that sounds greedy and opportunistic and it’s an immediate turn-off, especially to someone you’ve barely just met.
Instead, you want to spin your encounters such that you are scouting for people you can help, and now you can direct them to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or what-have-you so they can get more value.
You’re not selling (tacky), you’re not promoting (boring), you’re helping people (awesome).
Your pitch (if you can even call it that) should sound something like…
“I’ve got an ebook that addresses that topic. Follow me on Facebook so you can download a free copy.”
“I’ve written several articles that would help you (or your clients) with that dilemma. Mind if I send you a connection request?”
“I just shot a video that explains this in detail. Are you on YouTube?”
If the moment feels right, whip out your fully-charged phone and seal the follow/connection right then and there.
Otherwise, you can always follow up later.
After the networking event
6. Follow up and offer MORE value
Depending on how successfully you executed before the event, and during the event, you might have a pile of new followers and social media connections by the time you return to your office.
But, don’t get too comfortable.
The most important part of (social media) networking comes after the event.
Now, you will want to follow up with anyone who didn’t follow you on social media and remind them that you have value to offer. Of course, you’re going to want to follow them back as well.
Thank your new connections in private messages and make sure you keep your content high quality and consistent.
Don’t let your new followers down.
7. Plan to meet in person
It’s still a very good idea to meet with these new contacts in person, from time-to-time.
Grab a quick coffee, and meet one-on-one or in small groups.
With social media, you can easily fill in the gaps of time, where you don’t see each other.
Share great content, engage, discuss, have fun and joke around a bit (sharing a few laughs is okay!) – remember, don’t take the social out of social media. This is all a part of building rapport.
Social media networking does not replace face-to-face networking, but it can accelerate it on many levels. Before a big B2B networking event, audit your social media profiles and make sure they are coherent and up-to-date. Have great content and a lead magnet in place. Break the ice with the event organizers and presenters. Take this opportunity to learn as much as you can about the other attendees. Figure out who the key people you want to meet are. Once you are at the event, live post and help build up some hype surrounding the event. Don’t bury yourself in your phone, though (you might consider enlisting the help of a social media manager). After the event, don’t forget to follow up and offer more value. At some point, you should meet your new business connections again, in person, to keep the relationship solid. In between in-person meetings, engage on social media, so you never drop the ball and always stay close to your growing network.