The following post is coming from a person who admits they are terrible at face to face networking. I've tried it, I hated it. It doesn't come as naturally to me as it does anyone who manages not to get the condensation from their drink all over their clothes. Yes, I spill it too. I also don't really drink it. That's a post for another day.
Much to the surprise of anyone on my work team or inner circle, I identify as an introvert. "But you're so excitable! And loud!" Yeah, with you. And about ten other people total. Aren't you lucky?
I've read countless accounts of how to get better at networking from those with perspectives similar to mine. One day, I'll commit to getting better at it as fervently as I do any other skill, but until then, social media is the next best thing, and it's helped me. Here's how and why:
It's more personal than you think.
I think collecting business cards or collateral, or a flurry of phone calls or voicemails can amount to the same amount of impersonal noise as a recently refreshed social timeline. I'm not talking about understanding the difference between what communication methods are more effective and when to use one over the other, I'm talking about possibility of an introduction's impact.
If I just finished an actually useful whitepaper, or finish an online course or book, the first thing I do is look for their handle. I construct the best feedback I can out of limited characters, and I send it off. 9/10 I receive a response. There's this misconception that thought leaders or content creators have this gaggle of people that guard their handles and filter their responses. That might be true, and that's actually something to not be afraid of. If you mean it, it will get through.
It's not just for millennials.
It's for people who want to do what social media really enables you to do: listen and share. It's the most valuable KPI/metric/whatever: someone's attention. When you follow someone on Twitter, you've earned just that. Whether you're prowling the conference room or filtering through feeds, you're looking for the same thing. I don't think the desire for that outcome varies by generation.
Act natural, get results.
I have half the amount of followers than people I follow. I can disappear for a few days. Sometimes it is literally pictures of my dogs. I don't hound the people I want to notice me, and I don't get disappointed when I don't hear back. For some high powered influencers, I think they're looking for users that understand and echo their message, and will retweet you to continue the crusade. Whenever that happens, my visibility spikes and it's easy to tell when someone is genuinely interested and follows me, and who followed me via some followbot.
Yes, I can tell you used a followbot. Everyone can. Automating activity almost never delivers what you're looking for on social media -- valuable, actionable connection.
Relax. Follow who is important to you, let them know when they post something that created value for you. It might happen behind a screen, but the results can be the best buzzword of all: authentic.