The Inside Story: In Networking 2.0, Know Your End Game

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[Laura Toledo with the inaugural post in our new series of inside perspectives by marketing, communications, and business development professionals doing excellent work at law firms today:]

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to network — take it or leave it (as I hope you take or leave this). Like anything in life: it depends. It depends on your end-goal. It depends on your role. On your comfort level. So absorb the advice and make it your own.

I say this because in about two weeks I’ll join 1,000+ of my closest friends at the annual Legal Marketing Conference in Las Vegas. When I started attending the conference seven years ago, things were a lot different. While networking strategies haven’t changed so drastically, the landscape has. There weren’t as many people using social networks, so it was a lot easier to network via social. Now, everybody’s doin’ it, as they say — so it behooves the rest of us to find creative ways to rise above the noise.

...it behooves the rest of us to find creative ways to rise above the noise.

But this assumes something: that you want to get noticed, to meet everyone. This may or may not be your strategy. Because there are — like everything else in this world — degrees. My goals as a legal marketing newbie were not what they are as a semi-seasoned professional who’s 10 years in. It also assumes that I’m an extrovert and want to meet as many people as possible. Which — shockingly! — is true for myself. But not for a lot of people.

So let’s consider the practical application of some of these oft-mentioned networking strategies from an in-house marketer perspective:

"Become part of the conversation before you go..."

To my point earlier, this is harder to accomplish because of the sheer volume of people doing it. Still, it’s not a bad idea to find the conversation online (and to be honest, “conversation” is a bit abstract here, but we’ll go with it). But consider your strategy. 

As a newbie, it may be good to identify potential mentors — those who are similar to you, those who inspire you, those who write content you’d like to read. Also, for introverts, this is sometimes a great way to allay the jitters and makes it easier (less nerve-wracking) to meet IRL. It’s also nice to meet people who may be able to introduce you to others. If this is part of your strategy, a tactic could be to identify those people and put them on a Twitter list so you are easily able to find them when you’re at the conference.

... it may be good to identify potential mentors.

For more seasoned marketers—consider what you’re posting and who you’re interacting with. Are you making yourself less accessible by only interacting with those you already know? Those of us who have been doing this for a while most likely have an established network, so technically you’re already part of the “conversation.” Consider reaching out to new members, interacting with those who seem to be looking for it.

Also, beware of the snark. I think the older you get, the harder it is to remember what it was like to be the new person in the room. And now, thanks to social media, it’s all online for everyone to see. Imagine the guts it took to post publicly as someone without a lot of connections — only to be responded to with a series of non-answers. In other words: have some empathy. (Remember that tone of voice doesn’t carry through megabytes, and people may not always understand your sarcasm.)

"Tweet out sessions..."

Consider the number of live-tweeters. Personally, I’m a heavy Twitter user. But several years ago, when I realized so many were tweeting the same thing (i.e., exactly what the presenter(s) was saying), I decided the race to be the first wasn’t a great strategy (it also makes the hashtag stream really hard to read). If I needed tweets as notes (which is how I used to use Twitter), I’d look to someone else for those. But I decided instead to chime in with anecdotes, strategies, or other commentary as it applied to the session. A side conversation, if you will. 

...chime in with anecdotes, strategies, or other commentary

Again, it depends on what strategy you’re trying to employ here. Your own use of Twitter at a conference may be a good way to showcase how it works to your attorneys, or maybe the value you and your firm received from your attendance. 

"Meet the speakers before or after their presentation..."

Another fine tactic, but it requires a balance of what you’re looking to get out of it versus how long you’re willing to wait for it. Maybe instead of lining up in the queue, you make note to find them at the party. Or, thanks to your handy Twitter list I noted above, you use Twitter to find them and thank them for the knowledge-bomb they dropped. Get creative. Like all of these tactics, there’s not one way to employ them.

"Meet vendors/service providers..."

All good if you’re looking for a specific type of product or service (or even if you want to get a sense of what’s out there). Be prepared, though — I wish it weren’t true, but… — the meet and greet seems to be an “OK” for unsolicited follow-up emails. It puts the marketer in an awkward position to unsubscribe or feel compelled to respond to a solicitation for those 15–20 minute phone calls. You may have a need now or in the future, but depending on the communication, this may be the difference in going with one vendor or the other. 

And this sort of gets to my last point…

"Meet new people..."

This is a generalization that you need to meet everyone you possibly can. Which, again, fine — you may be an extrovert who enjoys that very thing, you may be new and you want to start your network, or maybe you want to be a mentor for someone, or it’s that you want to be a friendly face to newbies because someone did that for you. Those tactics meet your end-goals. But meeting people just to meet people…where’s the strategy in that?

...meeting people just to meet people…where’s the strategy in that?

This also implies that you need to wander the conference alone. What if you’re an introvert who feels more comfortable finding a pal who can act as a buffer for you? Nothing wrong with that. It’s when you walk around with your entourage and completely ignore the rest of the world around you that makes it hard for people to introduce themselves. And hey, if you don’t want to do that — that strategy will work in your favor. But it’s not an either/or. 

And yes, as a newbie or a seasoned marketer, please introduce yourself to those who look lost and/or alone. Be a connecting link between that person and yourself or someone else you know. Pass the buck.

Or don’t. 

Just be sure to tie it back into what you’re looking to get out of it. 

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[Laura Toledo is the Communications and Marketing Manager at law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Follow her on JD Supra; connect with her on LinkedIn.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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