This year I joined a women's networking group so I'm meeting lots of new people. As you know, one of the keys to effective networking is in the follow up. And what I've noticed is that these days the follow up method has changed. It used to work like this:
- Gather business cards and send an email, but just to the people you think would make a good prospect, or that might make a good referral partner.
- Set up a time to meet for coffee. This sometimes works, sometimes not, due to people's busy schedules. If they don't see an immediate connection with your business, chances are they'll put you off.
These days, email is occasionally still used, but I'm seeing a shift to connecting via social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook. What I like about this is that when you send an invitation to connect, you'll almost never get turned down. Just be sure to remind them that you met at the recent event in case they don't remember who you are.
In my case, what I've noticed is that usually within a day of attending one of the events, I get at least two or three invitations to connect with someone I met, along with a short follow up message. I also look up people I met but sometimes they find me first. When it comes to Facebook, I send a "Friend" invitation and also "Like" their business page. Now their posts show up in in my news feed and I can begin interacting with them, expediting the "get to know you" process that used to take much longer.
This past week I connected with five of the people at my table of eight, and have already begun interacting with them on Facebook and LinkedIn. I've also scheduled three meetings -- one by phone, and the other two I'll meet before and after the next networking event. I find that scheduling meetings this way saves us each a lot of additional travel time and expense (for the coffee or lunch).
People are busy these days so connecting online may not always seem like the best way to build a business relationship, but when you can see each other at the events and stay in touch online in-between, you've found the best solution for growing your network.