In a day and age when a large number of connections are made online, manners and traditional formality is often lost. Since social networking profiles reveal everything from a person’s occupation to their marital status and the neighborhood in which they live, it is easy to feel as if you know them without ever having met them. Although the boundaries of interaction are more relaxed today than they were ten years ago, there are still some rules of professional etiquette that need to be followed when networking.
1. Make Introductions. When attending an event, be sure that everyone in your party has been introduced. Be aware of acquaintances with which you or your colleagues have things in common, such as, industry, alma mater, professional degrees/licensures, children’s schools, etc. Not only are you creating a valuable connection for them, but you are demonstrating your own value and increasing your influence by bringing them together.
2. Learn how to Screen. Before attending networking mixers, have some idea of the kind of people you are looking to connect with. Need a new IT person for your business? Listen for clues when you are mingling. Looking for an inside track with a potential employer? Learn how to hear who people might be connected to based on their field of expertise. They may not work at the company you are interested in, but maybe they know someone who does. People in similar industries often cross paths at conferences or through professional associations. Be strategic! Networking shouldn’t be all fun and games.
3. Follow-up. Once you decide the person you meet is someone you need to add to your network, exchange information and follow-up! Hundreds of desk drawers and trash cans are filled with business cards that were collected then discarded. Make it a habit to send the person a follow-up e-mail at your very next opportunity. This is the best way for them to remember you. Write down the name and date of the event where you met on the back of the business card. This will help you put them into context and help you remember them when you meet again or when their name comes up in conversations with other colleagues. Be sure to tell people the best way to contact you. Some people prefer phone calls over e-mail. Knowing this will ensure you get a quicker response.
4. Reconnect. After you send a follow up e-mail, understand not everyone will e-mail you back. If after a couple of attempts to reach out, you are only hearing from a few folks, don’t fret. Those who respond are the people you want to focus on. However, don’t expect a one-way conversation. If someone responds and has a few questions about you, your current projects, etc., take time to answer them. Remember, they are networking too. Nothing says ‘rude’ louder than someone who doesn’t follow up. Continue to exchange e-mail or phone calls until it is apparent that a real connection exists or doesn’t exist. Never assume the other person has drawn a specific conclusion about you. While you are communicating, reconnect across multiple social media platforms such as, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Since the lines of communication are open, maximize them by connecting through other resources. Continue to be mindful of why you want to get to know this person and how you may be able to help one another.
5. Take the Next Step. Now that you are building a rapport with those you’ve added to your network, take the next step. Invite them to coffee or lunch, particularly if you’ve learned they live or work nearby. It is important to do this as soon after meeting them as possible in order to solidify the relationship. Once someone is willing to meet again in person, you are in a better position to start building trust and discuss possible business opportunities.
As you can see, it is not enough to arbitrarily pass out business cards or tell someone to go to your website. Although today’s professional should have some type of online presence in order to be taken seriously in the marketplace, telling someone to ‘Google’ you just isn’t enough. Being able to give a great first impression is important if potential clients or employers meet you in person before they find you online. If they aren’t impressed with you – they won’t be impressed with your SEO, your website or your business. You have to know how to present yourself in the marketplace. Professional etiquette may seem like a lost art form, but it consists of very important tools, that if properly utilized, can turn networking into a more fruitful experience.