If you've read my five part series on Twitter and why I came to love it, you'll remember using Twitter at a conference to make a new connection was my tipping point for the service. Since then, I've become a regular Twitter user.

That said, I understand a lot of our readers still don't quite understand the draw of Twitter. I think more people are beginning to understand the value of using Twitter during conferences to keep up with the conversation around the event and for meeting people at the show, but I think a lot of people are still failing to grasp the benefits of tying every day Twitter use to post-show networking. After attending Podcamp Ohio this past weekend, I'm reminded of just how useful Twitter is AFTER the show.

An Easy Way to Build Relationships

Twitter is all about building relationships. It's an ongoing conversation you can join and leave as you please and tools like the @reply feature allow you to pick up messages that were left for you while you were offline. Many people write Twitter off as a bunch of narcissists sitting around talking about themselves, but the truth is; Twitter is just like any other conversation. It's a chance to share your day, your thoughts, your experiences, your favorite links and anything else that springs to mind.

That means it holds value for both strengthening relationships and for creating new ones.

A Simple Solution to Networking Nightmares

Consider the thing that makes networking most difficult; lack of things to talk about.

Twitter solves this by allowing you to follow someone's conversation for minutes, hours, days or even weeks...waiting for the opportunity to join in on a point of common interest. I've said before that Twitter isn't stalking, it's observing. While that statement makes people chuckle, it's true. Because Twitter is a more relaxed and casual atmosphere, you'll often find people talking about things that would never make it on their blog. Keep tabs on what they're saying and you're sure to find an easy entry point to start a conversation.

For example, I've talked about the following things in the last month:

  • My SIL's extremely high-risk pregnancy and the frustrations of her being on bed rest
  • My Saturday cooking marathons as I try to prepare a week's worth of food for both our family and my SIL's
  • A trip to Boston for a training event and the things we saw and ate while there
  • Attending and speaking at PodCampOhio
  • A chess board made completely out of recycled car parts
  • Spotting someone driving a Ferrari while actually wearing a Ferrari hat and jacket
  • Moo.com announcing they'll be offering business cards with your Flickr images
  • Losing my keys

The list could go on for pages. (And does) The point is, when you're in a networking environment at an event, conversation tends to get artificially limited to the event itself and mundane topics like food, weather and where we're all from. When you meet someone for the first time, you have no idea where their interests lie, so it can be difficult to get the conversation going.

On top of that, there's only so much time to meet people at events, especially if we're talking about one day events like PodCamp. Trying to figure out who you need to meet and then getting home and finding out you missed someone you'd be dying to meet can be frustrating. Even worse, you can end up with a family emergency or a client issue at the last minute, and you'll miss the event (and potential networking) entirely.

Or will you?

Oh How I Love Summize

Enter Summize. A fantastic tool that tracks the conversation taking place on Twitter.


Simply enter a keyword and Summize will start tracking the conversation, giving you notices whenever new posts have been added to the mix. (Yes, there are other tools that do this as well, but Summize is my favorite.)

I started using Summize during PodCamp Ohio because the replies tab on Twitter was broken and I had no way to see who was responding to me. All I needed to do with Summize was run a search for "@jenniferlaycock" and the service would give me updates whenever I had a new message.


Not long after, I opened a second tab and began tracking mentions of "@podcampohio." This was nice as it let me see what was being said about the show, while also giving me an ongoing list of who else was there.


Thanks to Summize, I discovered both Chris Abraham and Barbara Baker were attending. I'd followed both of them on Twitter for ages and immediately sent them each a message to make sure we connected.

Still, the benefit of Summize and Twitter goes further...

Make More Contacts Than You Could Ever Make In Person

See, I was only able to stay at PodCamp for the first half of the day due to some prior commitments. Ultimately, I only met about a dozen people, even though there were around 150 at the show. In a pre-Twitter world, I'd have been out of luck, unless the folks I'd met could connect me with other people they'd met. In a Twitter world, I still have plenty of chances to "meet" the people who attended the show.

You see, as I watched Summize for conversation about PodCamp Ohio, I saw dozens of names flying by that I didn't recognize. Each time I spotted a new name, I clicked through to look at their bio. If they were in Ohio, or involved in marketing (or just had an interesting stream) I followed them. Over the course of the next few days, I followed more than forty new people.

I'm Still Making New Friends...

Since then, I've been able to follow their conversation to see what interests them, what sites they visit, what their latest blog posts are and more. I now know that Andrea Hill is not just an accessibility guru, but also a runner. I've learned that Chris Abraham thinks Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most entertaining movies ever and I've discovered several PodCamp Ohio attendees share my spiritual beliefs. Suddenly, new doors of conversation open up. In fact, thanks to Twitter follow-ups, I'm now planning a conference call with one attendee, a couple of lunches with another and will likely team up with a few more on podcasts.

All of this conversation and "deal-making" took place after the show, thanks to Twitter.

Connect Without Leaving Your House/Office

And in case you haven't already put together the potential...you can clearly do this with a show you haven't even attended. I know several Twitter users who had last minute conflicts pop up that caused them to miss PodCamp Ohio. Thanks to Summize and Twitter, they still have a chance to tap into the networking by discovering new people to follow and building relationships from there.

If you aren't using Twitter yet, I'd strongly encourage you to go back and read my Twitter guide and to give it a try. Use a tool like Summize to find Twitter users with common interests. Use it to find people who live in your area. Use it to connect with people who got to attend a show you wanted to attend but couldn't. Most of all, use it to build new contacts so you can take your time networking. You'll gain far more from a relationship you build based on common interests than you will from passing your business card out to everyone standing around the bar during cocktail hour.

July 1, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


And don't forget about the PRE-conference networking affect of Twitter! There's been plenty of chatter on Twitter already about this September's Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference, and I've started following a dozen or more people on Twitter that will be attending the event. It gives me as a speaker a way to begin talking to these attendees months in advance to get a better idea of what topics they would like to see me cover!

Twitter is simply the best online tool I have found for networking. Period.

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