TECH, BUSINESS AND CAREER INSIGHTS

Digital Networking is the New Business Card

By: Chris Skaggs | @chrislskaggs

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Business cards are a waste of money. There, I said it. I know they can be really cool – metal, gold-leaf, embossed, magnetic, doubles as a bottle opener, etc. However, if you’re anything like me, your post-network event timeline goes something like this:

  1. Get back to the office.
  2. Enter the information in your contact list.
  3. Throw away the card.
  4. Delete the contact information in a year or two when you’re cleaning out your address book.

Sound about right?

Don’t get me wrong, contact information is incredibly important – office number, cell phone number and email address – but we’ve moved beyond the traditional business card, especially now that nearly all of us carry around a mini-computer in our pockets. Your cell phone provides an even better opportunity to connect with people beyond a 3.5” x 2” piece of paper.

To test this theory, I’ve gone bold at my last few events. When the obligatory “Do you have a card?” question comes up, I answered with, “No, I don’t carry them anymore – let’s connect on LinkedIn,” and not to my surprise, we did.

Instead of handing out business cards (which are inevitably headed for the recycle bin), take the opportunity to digitally connect with someone at your next event or conference.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to connect with them on social media. If you’re not into social media (you should be for the sake of your personal brand), it’s OK. Simply exchange a text message or quick email to share your contact information, keeping your conversation top of mind and top of inbox.

If you do go the social media route to digitally connect – which I highly recommend – here are my thoughts for digitally connecting on some of the most popular channels.

LINKEDIN
Risk Factor: Negligible

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Pros: As a site defined as “a business and employment-oriented social networking service mainly used for professional networking,” LinkedIn is the perfect place to digitally connect. Plus, your profile can do so much more for you than just your business card or even your resume.

For one, your picture will accompany your contact information. Remember the old adage, “put a face to a name” – done. Once connected, they can contact you directly through LinkedIn’s revamped messaging service. You can also see what other connections the two of you might have in common.

Additionally, your new contacts can view additional information through your professional summary and experience that you might not have been able to cover when you initially met. If you’ve built out your LinkedIn profile thoroughly, you can include links to your portfolio and examples of your work.

Cons: It’s not as much a con as it is a reality, but not everyone has a profile on LinkedIn, and even if they do, some aren’t very active on the platform. However, your chances are pretty good to make a meaningful connection with over half a billion LinkedIn members to choose from.

TWITTER
Risk Factor: Moderate

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Pros: Connecting on Twitter is easy – one click and you’re a follower. Twitter, known as a micro-blogging platform, is the place where many professionals build their personal brands. The ability to include hyperlinks and hashtags quickly and easily in a Tweet is a great place for individuals to promote their content.

If your new contacts are blogging or publishing content, they’re most likely using Twitter to amplify that content to a larger audience. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they write, so use this as an opportunity to learn more about someone you may not know that much about.

Cons: A social media post has the shortest lifetime on Twitter – about 15 minutes. Ultimately, this means there’s a lot of noise (on average, about 6,000 tweets per second) and content can easily get lost. To prevent missing out, you can choose to be notified when a contact publishes a Tweet.

Twitter is also the place where many people tout their opinions and reactions to certain events or topics. Some people go overboard with their Twitterpinions and you may learn way more about a new contact than you ever had hoped or planned.

A good rule of thumb for networking (digitally or in-person): keep anything religious or political to yourself.

FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM
Risk Factor: 50/50

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Pros: If you really hit it off with a new contact, connect-away on Facebook and/or Instagram as both platforms have the most personal content published. Photos of spouses, children and pets are readily shared and easily accessible on these two social sites.

We’ve all heard it before but it’s worth repeating, people do business with people they know, like and trust. Digitally connecting with your contact on Facebook or Instagram allows you to see a more complete, authentic and well-rounded picture of who they are away from the confines of their career.

I’m friends with several of my business contacts on Facebook and Instagram. This type of networking can provide incredible value and is indicative of the shift we’re seeing – where the lines between our business and personal lives continue to blur.

Cons: Profiles on both Facebook and Instagram are typically more private than on any other social media network. If you choose to digitally connect on Facebook and/or Instagram, make sure you’re fairly confident that your new contact is (1) active on those platforms, and (2) would likely accept the connection request.

As with Twitter, some people choose to share things on Facebook and Instagram that you might be better off not seeing, so use caution. When in doubt on whether to add a business acquaintance as a Friend or Follower, stick to LinkedIn and Twitter.

It might feel weird going to your next networking event without business cards, but try it. Connecting digitally is best accomplished on social media, but a simple text or email exchange at the event also works well.

Whether we like it or not, social media is part of our culture. If you're still freaked out by digital networking, these tips should help ease any uncertainty.

Remember: when you hand over that business card, who knows where it might end up. By networking digitally, whether it be via social media or email, you’re helping to increase your chance of being more memorable and telling a complete story about who you are and what you do.

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