One of my early clients when I started doing social media consulting was a lawyer in Phoenix who concentrated on helping businesses work through mergers and acquisitions. We met up when I was in town for a conference.
“Now that I’ve made partner, I need to make it rain,” he told me. “I’d love to get in front of those businesses that have some kind of financing who are just starting to think about selling in the near future.”
The new law partner knew that he wouldn’t get a lot of opportunities to run into these kind of business leaders, since they weren’t the types to go to the monthly Chamber of Commerce mixers. He needed to make good on his once-a-year interactions with these entrepreneurs at industry conferences.
The advice I gave him is the advice I give to anyone who doesn’t want to be just another face at a conference:
Here’s how to use social media to make the most of those networking opportunities:
The speakers at industry conferences are great resources with whom to connect. But if you wait until after a speaker gives her talk, you’ll probably have to wait in a long line to introduce yourself. Since almost every speaker list is made public before a conference, there’s no reason to wait until the conference to connect with these influencers.
Research conference speakers on social media, connect with them on LinkedIn (send a note providing context, of course), and then start posting about those speakers on your channels. Tag them, like them, and promote them to your audiences. Those speakers will notice, and they may even seek you out at the conference. At the very least, they’ll be more likely to recognize your name.
If you’re someone who likes to prepare for conferences by doing some research on the attendees and speakers so you know who to seek out during networking breaks, then this should come naturally to you. The research is an easy task to delegate to a personal assistant, and the posts take only a few minutes to create.
If you want people to remember you after the conference, there are two things you should do while you’re there. (Obviously, this is in addition to introducing yourself to the people you researched and connected with ahead of time.)
If you meet someone and you have an enjoyable conversation that you think could one day lead to a business relationship, ask them to take a photo with you. It will help you remember who you met and when — let’s face it, a week after a conference it’s hard to distinguishing the people you talked to and what the conversations were — and it will be useful for conference follow-up.
You may be thinking, “Nobody really reads conference Twitter hashtags, except the conference organizers.”
...Except the conference organizers. If you want to make an impression on the conference organizers, who are likely influencers in your industry, show them some love on Twitter. Since conference hashtags are woefully underused, if you tweet three or four times during each session you attend, you’ll likely draw the attention of the conference chair, who is probably also the person in charge of booking speakers for the next year.
Sometimes when we plan out or social media activity, we get obsessed with trying to optimize our activity to get the most number or views or the highest engagement.
But if you’re strategic about it, that one view on social media may be the only one you need.
Before the conference high wears off - during that one-week honeymoon period - be sure to follow-up with all of your new connections. This is a great time to post those photos you took with the people you met, especially on LinkedIn (because of its business-focused nature). Tag them and introduce them to your network, while sharing something about their work that will be relevant and provide value to your audience.
Then, put a note in your calendar to check in on these connections in three months, and six months, and nine months.
Lastly, put a Google News alert on the company’s name, or the individual’s name. If they get good press, you should be the first one sharing their stories and promoting their achievements.
Being active on social media should never replace getting out in the community and meeting the doers in your industry, but it’s an excellent supplement. Used strategically, social media can help you maximize the time and effort you put into growing your network, and will provide you with influence long after the in-person meetings.
How will you make the most of your next conference? Which of these strategies can you see yourself using right away?