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In: Social Media

There are more and more people attending networking events and there are a huge number of people networking on the many different social media websites.

But how are you contributing to these different mediums?

Networking Offline
When you attend an event, whether it's a business breakfast; a seminar; a training day with networking breaks, what are your expectations?

Many people attend these events with the definite intent of winning new customers by selling to as many of the people there as possible. We've all been to meetings where there's a guy working through the crowd handing out his business cards, rather like a bumble bee flitting from flower to flower. He stays with a person for no more than a few moments; long enough to impress them with his well honed "elevator pitch" before he's off to find his next victim. He does not spare more than a minute to listen to the other person. He does not really care what they do. He listens for long enough to discover if they are a potential victim; someone he can sell to.

This is serial networking at it's worst. In business and in life people buy people. So it is important that you learn the art of being a caring networker. People are NOT going to "buy you" if you're just a card dealer. You have to truly care about the other person and it's always a good start if you can make a great first impression.

The word SHINE was introduced to me at a recent marketing conference I attended and like any conference or seminar there was an element of networking through the event. A great guy called Mark Perl was the host and he explained the concept of SHINE.

S – Smile

H – Handshake

I – Eye Contact

N – Name

E – Enthusiasm

Smile as you look at the person and shake their hand firmly but not weakly or with a limp wrist. Equally do not crush the other person's hand! Look them in the eye and keep looking at them as you give them your name and listen as they say their name. Be enthusiastic during this. Do not speak in a boring, monotone voice but introduce yourself as if you're excited.
Then once you've done the introductions ask questions. Ask the person what they do for a living. Ask them how they heard about the event, ask them where they live.

I always try to find out as much as I can about the other person and I always try to ask them the first question. This really puts the other person at ease because people naturally enjoy talking about themselves. Always try to show real interest in what they are telling you and find out if you have some things in common. The best way to do this is to make sure you really listen. Do not get distracted by other people in the room or a loud conversation going on nearby. Stay focused on the other person while they're speaking and try not to interrupt them.

I have a general rule that I never offer my business card until either I've discovered that the person I'm talking to is someone I want to connect with and stay in touch with; or they ask me for my business card. And if they are someone I want to connect with I always ask them for their card and in most cases they qualify by asking for mine.

Networking Online
Many of the same rules apply when you are participating via online social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Ecademy, Bebo, Xing, MySpace or on people's blogs and your own blog. But the main mistake people make when using these sites is, without realizing it they become the card dealer! They just broadcast messages about themselves and their business. They send tweets on Twitter promoting their company.

The art of communication through social media is having conversations. You have to take part in discussions with people and you have to go where the conversation is taking place. If your favorite social network is Facebook and you only "talk" to people on Facebook you are going to be missing out on a whole load of conversations which you might want to take part in.

Use some of the aggregator tools such as FriendFeed to see where the conversations are taking place and then go and join in. This is the beauty of using social media. Unlike a bar or a café where conversations are occurring but you do not feel you can "barge in" and just sit down at a table and join a conversation with strangers. On social media sites you can. You can see a conversation happening around a subject that interests you and you can jump right in by posting your opinion.

You can add your comments to a conversation and people can read them and reply and all in real time. It's amazing to watch and take part in and it is so exciting when you then make a connection with someone in this way.

I followed some runners on Twitter and I was training to run a half marathon and we were having a conversation about training. I tweeted about why I was raising money for Cancer Research UK and a lady I had never met joined in the conversation. She wrote a lovely reply saying how moved she was by my story about my dad dying of cancer and she very generously sponsored me via my fundraising website! That just blew me away. About a month later on the marketing weekend I mentioned early there were over 200 people from all over the UK there and the hosts asked members of the audience to stand up and give feedback. I heard this lady introduce herself and I realized it was the same lady who had sponsored me via Twitter. During the break we met up and it was just amazing to meet this generous person in real life! We are now connected and we have met up since and become really good friends.

So try and take part more in the conversations going on and post comments on people's blogs. There is nothing worse that writing a blog and getting no comments! It happens to us all, so I make sure if I read an interesting blog that I post a comment and add my opinion. It's also nice to share things which you have found interesting from other people. Do not just share your stuff. It's more rewarding to let people know about other people's stuff and one day, you never know, someone might just promote our stuff.

Take part in the conversations and start to contribute more, but please do not be a card dealer.