I am a big fan of social media and have given talks to a number of organisations, including Cancer Research UK, on its power and uses. We have also developed social media strategies for a number of our clients - helping them to share news on LinkedIn and gain more followers on Twitter.
As with the majority of marketing strategies, it's good to mix things up a bit. While social media has its part to play, there's nothing like face-to-face contact with potential and existing contacts.
We encourage our clients to network and, as an organisation, we practice what we preach. There is nothing as powerful as actually meeting a potential contact, getting to know them and then continuing to ‘bump into them' at future networking events. I've been networking for many years now and I believe an open-minded approach is best. Yes, it's important to have a look at any lists that are circulated beforehand of who's attending and target the people you'd like to talk to, but never cross somebody off your list at this stage.
Be prepared to talk to anyone - you never know what their particular network is like or what opportunities they might be sitting on. I also make a point of bringing people together if I can. While it might seem that there's nothing in it for you or your business - if the relationship works for the two parties involved, they will remember you.
The power of networking has really made a difference with the Summer Lunch I help to organise every year for Cancer Research UK. The charity has recently quizzed me on how other volunteer committees in the South East can create a similar event. To be honest, the key to its success is my database of contacts and the amount of networking I do both in East Sussex and West Kent. If I had to start an event like this from scratch and didn't have that network, then it would be a really hard task. Talking to somebody I already know at a networking event about the Summer Lunch is easy compared with making some cold calls to local companies.
Once you have met somebody at a networking event - then that's when social media plays its part. Get into the habit of sending a LinkedIn invitation to new contacts and following them on Twitter and perhaps liking their firm's Facebook page. Also add their name to your email list if they're happy for you to do so.
Keeping in touch with somebody between networking events is easy and straightforward. Just liking some of their updates on LinkedIn or retweeting their news on Twitter will help them to remember you before that next face-to-face meeting at a networking event.
So, while it's easy to live in a virtual world and never step away from your computer - those contacts you make at networking events are most likely to be your future customers and advocates.