Conferences, job interviews, parties, and other events that bring people together to meet for the first time can be tricky for some people. Or what about when you are looking for people that share your interests regardless of location. On one hand, you have people who are a little shy, and unsure what to say upon meeting someone for the first time. On the other, you have people who aren’t especially shy, but who don’t like meeting someone cold. Social media tools are perfect for this.
If you’re going to an event, start checking around to see who’s attending. Look for an Upcoming entry or a Facebook group. Most modern conferences put these up as matter of course (and if you RUN a conference, consider this step). From there, see if you are already friends (social network definition) with any one. If not, consider friending them based on the fact you’re heading to the same event.
Before Interviews, and Related to Events
Log into LinkedIN and see what you can find about your interviewer, people who work at the prospective new company, and other companies in the industry. It’s a way to build a picture of the landscape without relying on other people’s information. For instance, if the company you’re thinking of working at turns up zero results in a search on LinkedIN, it might mean that the culture is less forward-thinking or at least not social media equipped. If you look at a few profiles that come up in the search, and note that people are only there a year (two or three samples, maybe), then perhaps the place is big on competition, or maybe not really rewarding to long term employees.
Related to events, once you know someone’s going, see if you can find them in Facebook (maybe MySpace), LinkedIN, Twitter, and see if you can search out a blog by putting their name and blog in a Google search. Oh, and don’t forget Flickr.
Flickr is a PERFECT tool for searching out info on people. I’ve known some people who don’t use their headshot as an icon on any social network, but a little Flickr searching later, I realized I could point them out at an event. (By the way, if you don’t know this, that’s why I put LOTS of pictures of myself on my website. It’s because I want you to be able to find me at events. Not because I’m vain, though I guess you could argue that one, too).
From here, once you find some shreds of this person or some people online, you’ve built yourself a means by which to seek out similar points of interest, tangential conversational topics, and maybe even potential business opportunities you can discuss, should the moment arise. That’s the beauty of social media and social networks. They let you better understand the people who participate.
If You Find NOTHING About People
That can be a conversation starter, too. “I didn’t find you on Facebook. What do you think of those social networks?” You can assume that the person isn’t especially convinced of the value of social networks and making media, but I wouldn’t lead outright with that. Maybe this person is a prolific blogger behind the firewall. Maybe they’re using an alias. It took me a little TOO long to connect Genuine on Twitter with Jim Turner of One By One Media. They were two different people in my head until spending some time at an event.
Stealing a page from Jeff Pulver (who is a MASTER at building community in the real world and online), after events is a great time to “plumb up” all the various social media connections. Get connected in Facebook, maybe LinkedIN, in Twitter, Flickr, and wherever else you tend to use. Consider reading their blog, adding it to your reader for a while. Make it a chance to learn more about the person now that you’re in their orbit. Do what Laura “Pistachio” Fitton does and invite them into your Twitter Village. The point is to get to know them now that you’ve met in person.
Reflect on YOUR Presence
Some people are debating the value of Facebook right now as a business platform. At the very baseline, fill out your profile. Give information that you wouldn’t mind your employer seeing. Not because you have to self-censor, but in this world where people use the tools that are available, your Facebook page and your Twitter stream and all these various artifacts you’re creating are available for people to search.
At the same time, once you get over the paralysis of the above, make sure you put enough of yourself into your profiles that people can get these conversational hooks to communicate with you at events. If you’re strictly business at your conference appearances, try to indicate that in your profile. The point is, once you realize that you can use these tools to build real world relationships, consider the effect in both directions (you finding them; them finding you).
First Moves Are Yours
The conversation itself is up to you, and no, I don’t tell you how to not be shy at an event directly (though one way you can do this is to find your way into circles of people on the periphery, and look for your conversational in). But with some of this prep out of the way ahead of time, you’ll find yourself a lot more prepared than when you used to show up at these events “cold.”
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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