Four years ago, I wrote a blog post about networking. In it, I compared a networking conversation to a tennis match.
In tennis, the goal is to make contact with the ball and knock it back over the net. Let the ball linger on your side of the net too long and you risk watching it dribble off to the side, allowing your opponent to score the point. The same is true in a business conversation. When you are talking, it is the equivalent of keeping the ball on your side of the court. The longer you talk the more likely your listener will become bored. And just as the ball will roll off the court, so will your business opportunity.
To avoid losing the match, I suggested a number of conversation starting questions and networking tips which work really well in a face-to-face environment. But how does this tennis match behavior work online? Here are a few tips:
- Twitter’s 140 character limit is actually a really good guide. Can you describe your business in twenty words or less? Even if you have more room for a longer description, forcing yourself into the short form makes you focus on what is really most important
- Start conversations with questions. Just as you would in person, use questions to break the ice and get the conversation started. Test different types of questions for example:
- Personal: Ask about favorite restaurants or summer activities, opinions on movies or local bands.
- Research: Ask about how often people use a particular service or gather feedback on designs and projects
- Productivity: Ask about what tools people use both on and off line. I find this particularly helpful when I am looking for WordPress Plugins. Instead of spending hours researching, I simply ask my friends for their favorites.
- Keep the conversation going – Don’t just RT. Add a comment or link before you pass it on. Look for people who have taken the time to RT something you shared. Instead of a simple “thanks for sharing” take the time to respond to them or share a link of theirs.
- Talk to people. At networking events, people often measure success by how many cards the collected. Online they count fans and followers. A better measure is how many conversations were you engaged in.
Ultimately the rules are still the same. Listen to others, ask good questions, and add something of value to the conversation if you want to win on or off line.
For more on this topic, check out my interview with the IBJ –
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