Five steps to re-invent your social media business networking

social media networking

By Srinivas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Chances are you’ve never heard of Oliver Starr. But you’ve probably heard of many of the people below:

This may seem odd to you, but Oliver, a successful blogger and Michael Arrington’s first employee at Tech Crunch, had never heard of these people when I mentioned their names.  The only reason I learned who he was is because he’s the product evangelist for Pearltrees, a tool for organizing information that I really love. My interaction with Oliver was eye-opening because I just assumed that if you’re in “the biz” you would have heard of most of these folks.

It made me realize just how narrow our view of the web is.

A few weeks ago Mark Schaefer wrote about his observation that there is nothing new in blogging. I’m willing to bet if most of Mark’s readers put the names of the blogs they read on a regular basis into a hat, they would all have a very similar list. Our natural tendency is to gravitate towards people similar to us, and the result is a self-imposed lens through which we view the social web.  Maybe it isn’t that there’s nothing new in blogging, but that we’ve been stuck in an incestuous circle of social media marketers, lifestyle designers, and personals development bloggers. Just so we’re clear, I’m not pointing fingers. I fall into those same incestuous circles!

Innovation and new ideas can’t diffuse throughout the social web when experts spend all their time talking to experts. That’s why I believe it’s important we not only embrace new and emerging talent, but also take steps to get outside of our comfort zone and expand our horizons.  Here are five ideas on how to do that …

1. Purge your blog reader and start from scratch

Every few months I literally unsubscribe from nearly every blog I read. This enables me to accomplish a few things.  First I’m able to prioritize which blogs have become the most important to me.  Second, it forces me to look for new blogs and creates an opportunity to connect with new people.  As a result my network continually expands.  Subscribe to a few blogs that have nothing to do with your industry but that you just find interesting.

2. Pick 5 new people to follow on Twitter and build a relationship with them

I’ve never particularly cared too much about the number of followers I have on Twitter which might seem sacrilegious, but it’s been a big part of my philosophy on building relationships. What I’m more interested in is who is actually following me.  Every few days I read the bios of my new followers and pick a few to engage with.  The amazing people I’ve found by doing this include successful entrepreneurs, artists, published authors, literary agents, and many other people who are doing amazing things online. This has been a great way to broaden my own horizons and connect with exciting new people.

3. Attend a conference outside your industry

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about leveraging public speaking was from Michael Port. He said that rather than speaking at a social media conference go speak to an association of dentists because in that environment you’ll be the go-to person on your subject matter. This could lead to additional speaking engagements and consulting opportunities.  By attending or speaking conferences outside your industry, you not only have an opportunity to grow your network substantially, but you could also tap into a significant source of opportunities. Additionally you may find that you’ll be exposed to  a wide variety of new ideas.

4. Go to smaller conferences

Our general tendency is to attend the biggest industry conferences each year so we can see as many people as possible.  This creates a highly competitive environment for people’s attention and limits what we can get out of the conference.  I think conferences like Social Slam, which is devoted to opening up speaking and networking opportunities for diverse new talent, drives opportunities to meet thought leaders outside the echo chamber. One additional suggestion I have for conferences  — don’t hang out with the people you already know.  Seems obvious, but not always easy to do.

5. Don’t go to conferences. Attend a retreat instead

A 5-minute conversation and business card exchange during happy hour at a conference has its limits in terms of building long-term relationships. This is why I think a 5-6 person retreat of some sort that involves more than just talking about business could be much more powerful than a typical conference.  Imagine how well you’d get to know each other if a small group of people spent three or four days together.

If we’re going to discover what’s new in blogging and social media marketing, then we have to keep opening up ourselves to new people and new experiences by trying things we’ve never tried.

Please leave your ideas in the comment section about how you are energizing your network and feel free to leave the names of a few non-social media experts you enjoy learning from!

srini rao

Srinivas Rao writes about the things you should have learned in school, but never did and his the host-co founder of BlogcastFM.  You can follow him on twitter @skooloflife

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  • Hi Srinivas,

    I love your idea of removing your blog subscriptions, I’ll try this one out. Here’s a couple of things I do:

    a). When I get a follower that I think would be good to be connected with I follow them back and then follow up with a direct message where I mention their name (so they know it’s not automated) and something about their business and normally a question (difficult to fit into one tweet). If I can get a conversation going that’s one step closer to getting to know a person.

    b). A great tip at conferences is to talk to the speaker before they speak. They’ll have lots of people looking for attention after they speak but for some reason most people ignore them before they get up on stage.

    c). The success of the conference depends on the work you put in before the conference. Getting to know the speakers, attendants, interacting on twitter etc etc.

    d). I try to continue the initial exchange over twitter on e-mail and then we can have a better initial conversation. For the twitter followers that engage with me over e-mail that week I generally do a follow friday highlighting these people.

    I’m guilty as charged on not having a good enough variety in my RSS feed. I had a scan and there’s lot of social media, digital marketing and technology blogs but not much outside of this. Time to correct that one.

    Thanks for an interesting read.


  • altavel

    Great stuff, thanks!!

    Google Drive

  • Cleaning out my blog subscriptions now, thanks!

  • MegECox

    A variation on the retreat theme: small monthly lunch groups.

  • Srinivas,

    It’s a catch-22… The “Big Guys and Gals” have time and budget on their side which allows them to experiment and test and do things that a small business type like myself wouldn’t be able to do.

    But then at the same time as a smaller-time small business type that gets try different things out on my website and blog and don’t care if they fail because it’s mine and I can always just change or try something else or go hyper-local whatever…

    There is value in both types of idea creation.

    But I do love the idea of resetting RSS.



  • Great tips thank you. I am like Meg and attend networking luncheons, and MeetUps where there are people from different industries. I also volunteer my services to small non profits, it allows me to expand even further. And lastly I too do not care about the quanitity of followers but the quality of who I follow. I follow those who have relevent content and engage with others.

  • Marylnne,

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I realize I’m guilty of many of the things that keep us trapped in the incestuous circle. That’s how I came up with the idea for this post. I’m 100% with you on the quality of followers. I love reading the bios of my twitter followers and have found some really amazing people because of it.

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  • Hey Ryan,

    I think you pointed one really key thing. The nice thing about being smaller is your failures aren’t as public. While they “big guys and gals” might have budget, the small biz types are lean and can move fast. In fact the title of my next post for GROw is “Why a small audience is a large army in the making.”. Resetting RSS is interesting because then you have to look in the comments of blogs you know to find new people to read.

    BTW, I know I haven’t commented on your posts,, but they’ve been showing up in my tweet stream and really enjoying them.

  • Ian,

    GReat points. In terms of new followers one of the easiest ways I’ve found to create an ongoing conversation is to ask questions. THe first one I usually ask is “how did you find me?” That leads to such a nice ongoing dialogue.

    In terms of conferences you’ve got some great points. I personally am starting to lean towards the idea of smaller and smaller events. I’m just convinced that intimacy is key to lasting relationships.

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  • Srinivas, thanks for the mention and the great talk we recently had. I think there’s tremendous value in what you’re recommending. There are many great writers and a whole new crop of up and comers that are worth noticing. By the way for those that are curious, Pearltrees is a new kind of library. It’s worth checking out. And of course, I am always pleased to interact with new folks on Twitter. I’m @owstarr there in case anyone’s interested!

  • Great suggestions…especially blowing out the RSS feed! That’s on my to-do list for later today. I agree whole-heartedly about attending smaller conferences. The bigger ones get so commercial that I have found I either learn nothing or get aggravated at the fact that it turns into a star-struck festival. 3 years ago, I started a group to bring together women in technology and social media dubbed the BWTs (Broads Who Tweet). We’ve had 2 retreats so far that were AMAZING – we spent 3 days connecting while being connected.. sharing best practices, favorite sites/apps and getting to know each other away from the hustle and bustle of life and work. Planning for retreat #3 will begin soon!

  • allarminda

    What a great question to ask: How did you find me? Thank you, Srinivas. I’m definitely going to use that.

  • Oh I completely agree… Watching some people work you know their trying to maneuver an Ocean Liner in NY harbor…

    We have to hesitate at the “Grass-is-Greener” mentality.

    I appreciate your kind words… I’m a fan of yours as well!!

  • That RSS feed one will cause you to end up on the radar of lots of new people. Its one of those things that I love to do every few months. I love that you pointed out the notion of a start struck festival. I think the bigger issue at hand is really that you come away kind of on a motivational high from seeing stars and hearing the stories. But then it’s not followed by any action. This isn’t just limited to blogging conferences. This is kind of the self help junkie syndrome. You come out of a seminar or workshop on this seminar high and people get addicted to the high and no real change is made.

  • Hey Oliver

    Great to connect with you as well. Its kind of amazing how our view of web becomes a self imposed bubble.

  • I love the advice about Twitter. Frankly, I think worrying too much about your number of followers is counterproductive to really taking the time to building relationships. Good relationships with 5 people will be far more productive than 100 followers who followed you just because you followed them.

  • Thanks, that is a great question!

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  • #3 is a great tip! I also see a lot of people starting lunch groups, coffee chats, and twitter meetups which I think is a good way to connect locally.

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  • @creativespin

    I like the idea of choosing a handful of followers to build relationships with. After attending a large conference, I feel excited but overwhelmed by the sheer volume of potentially great people I met briefly. Focusing on a few at a time will help reduce that chicken-with-its-head-cut-off feeling.

  • Hi Srinivas, I’m a basement waterproofer turned inbound marketing consultant. Had Marcus Sheridan out at our offices and it really turned around our company. I never got too hung up with social media and just focused on producing content. It served us well. I do plan on going to Content Marketing World (a big conference). Should be an interesting experience.

  • HEy Matthew,

    Marcus is amazing at what he does so that doesn’t surprise me in the least. Believe it or not I think you’ll have plenty to teach people at a conference like content marketing world because you actually fall outside the “incestuous” circle I’m speaking of.

  • Yeah, remember what Gladwell said in the The Tipping Point. The total # of human relationships we can effectively manage is 150.

  • Drew as I’ve mentioned in the post not only will you connect with amazing people you’ll have more meaningful conversations when you approach twitter this way. It may not scale, but it doesn’t have to.

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  • Awesome article. I’ve always been a proponent of constantly immersing yourself outside of your normally-defined interests and expertise. I try to follow a diverse group of people and try to consume an eclectic array of content. This is why I’m a big fan of StumbleUpon actually – you really do find some amazing things.

    The rewards for forcing yourself to vary your interests are immense. Not only do you connect with more people, but you will also find new things that you enjoy that you didn’t know. You’ll become curious about new things you didn’t know you were curious about. It also gives you a more holistic view of the world. It makes for endless connections between different topics and allows you to understand your original interests in whole new ways.

  • Pretty cool recommendations, Srinivas. Thanks a lot for the idea of cleaning our feeds and engaging with new bloggers.

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  • Great idea about resetting RSS feed! I have been working on our company’s daily/weekly SM strategy and we have been discussing the importance of reaching out in all of our varied areas of interest and beyond! I love finding great writers and ideas and connecting with new people! I could talk about and read about the power of SM and connecting all day long and really appreciate your post and this blog. Great comments from everyone!

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  • Qudos Animations

    Totally agree about the benefits of purging your reader. I’m the kind of person who gets RSS reader anxiety after not checking them for a while. Purging it would be a good way to make sure I have a feasible amount of blogs in there that I will actually read and pay attention to. And you make a good point about actually engaging with people on Twitter. I think people forget that it’s a place to connect and converse as well as promote our own content!
    Thanks for writing!
    All the best
    Manroop Takhar

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