Building Relationships: From Online to Real-Life.

April 14, 2010

I was fortunate to have worked for two of the best networkers in the world. Domenick Iellimo and Sally Glick both taught me the importance of networking as a business development tool. They both taught me that it wasn’t just about meeting people, but about helping others succeed. They taught me that it’s about paying it forward. These individuals, both successful in two very different industries, seem to know everyone. They are out there in the world, attending events, having breakfasts, having lunches, having dinner…never alone, but with people that they could help.

They are what some would call “people’s people.”

Because I met Domenick and Sally early in my career, I learned to network earlier than many of my peers. As the concept of online networking became more popular, I found myself involved in networking activities both online and in real-life. I have lunches, coffees and dinner with business contacts, but I also meet them on Twitter and through industry discussion boards. I believe that real relationships can be created on the internet just as they can be created by attending a cocktail reception.

From the business contacts that I have made through social networking, the ones that I have formed the strongest bonds with are people that I have connected with online and later met in person.

I am afraid that there are many people that can use social networking tools like a pro, but lack the real-world networking skills required to carry relationships to the next level. These people may have never had a Domenick or Sally in their lives to teach them networking basics.

Here are some things to think about when converting online connection to real-life relationships:

1. Don’t use your smartphone during the meeting. Sure, you might have met on Twitter, but you are now face-to-face. Use this time to find out how you can help the other person meet their business goals. In the end, the pay it forward approach can reward you with unexpected opportunities.
2. Listen more than you talk. Get to know the person and listen to what they have to say, you might just learn something.
3. Use eye contact. If you are used to sitting in front of a computer all day, you might have forgeten how powerful eye contact can be in developing trust.
4. Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to make the first move and invite a potential business contact to have a face-to-face meeting. While the conversations and knowledge sharing might be fantastic online, they can be even better in person.
5. Influence People. Introduce your virtual friends to other real-life contacts that you feel can benefit from knowing them.
6. Follow-up with a phone call. What? I can’t tweet them? Of course, you can continue to engage in online discussions, but now that you have taken the relationship to the next level, the personal touch can go a long way.

Remember, while social media tools are a great way to expand your network and reach new prospects and colleagues, they will never take the place of real-life human interaction. Don’t let your interpersonal skills get too rusty sitting behind that computer screen.