Monday, March 15, 2010

The Truth About "Networking" Events

As the majority of my virtual community has descended upon Austin for the annual pilgrimage known as South by Southwest Interactive, I can't help but have pangs of jealousy.  As a total music fanatic that represents a few budding singer-songwriters, I've been interested in the music festival for years.  And now as a total social media junkie, I'm head-over-heels with the idea of meeting some of my favorite virtual "friends" in person.

But wait--what IS the purpose of SXSW and similar conferences, Tweet-ups and events, large and small?  Is it to indulge in self-congratulatory, insider chit-chat?  To become even more insular and more exclusive?  To party 24/7 with several thousand of your closest friends?  Or is to network, to build new relationships and maybe, just maybe, learn something new?

I know that when I attend events like this in Atlanta, I have to be honest with myself about why I'm going.  Because nine times out of ten, I'm dealing with the usual suspects.  All wonderful, amazing, intelligent people, but people I know.  People I already have relationships with.  The insiders.  And there's nothing wrong with having an adult beverage, kicking back and enjoying some great conversation.  But I don't delude myself into thinking I'm networking, giving back, making new friends or building my business.  It is what it is--socializing with friends.

But if we're true ambassadors of social media, of openness and transparency, of building quality relationships or inclusion, shouldn't we be indulging in fewer SXSWs and Tweet-ups and doing more hanging out in local coffee shops, more reaching out to people we don't know, more sharing what we DO know?

And yes, I'm still adding SXSW 2011 to next year's agenda.  But I hope I go into it with open eyes and open arms.


  1. You've got it SPOT ON, girl.

    Like you, I had several pouty moments when I thought about my cohorts getting in on all of the action at SX, but then I really started to think about it and thought to myself, "You know ... I really just don't *need* to be there."

    Would it have been fun? Absolutely. But my business would have been far less better served by my presence there than it is with me getting things done for my clients.

    For many, I think attendance is all about the parties, when that should really be an ancillary benefit. I love having fun as much as the next person, but if there's no concrete reason for me to be a conference, I simply don't go.

    I want to meet new people (like I will next week when I'm in your city and get to meet YOU); I have no interest in getting caught up in industry drama. I've become quite choosy about the conferences I opt to attend. I think about the benefit to me, I think about benefits for me and my clients, I think about cost (that's a biggie). If I can't make a legitimate argument, then I simply don't go.

    But I still pout a little. ;)

  2. Thanks so much for commenting! And I'm still pouting--a bit. But like you said, how would it really benefit me or my clients? And it's a really expensive way to meet up with friends, when I can meet them one-on-one in more condusive settings, like our lunch next week! I started this blog a few months ago when I started having "networking fatigue," because I was tired of seeing the same people over and over again. Reading about SXSW just helped me solidify some points. So glad you'll be here next week!

  3. Laura, You're right about a lot of the "insiders." That's one reason I am shifting some of my "follow" patterns, to branch out of my social media and PR comfort zone, and follow, network, and yes, socialize with people in completely different fields. Hopefully I'll make new friends, learn something new this way. FWIW.

  4. I think you are absolutely right ... but events with people we know, or with people we hope to get to know are always fun! Glad to have found your blog!

  5. Precisely.

    Instead of networking for the hell of it, I try to infuse a little intent and, for that reason, I tend not to go to a lot of events in Atlanta. I certainly am not arrogant enough to believe that I know it all (or everyone) but time is a commodity that I just can't get back.

    The double-edged sword to being deliberate about alignments can lead to the perception that you're "too big for your britches" or snobbish; I struggle with this, too, and aren't sure where the balance rests. Until then, I just do what I can, when I can and build my network with integrity.

    Though I'm trying to figure this brand-building thing out as I go along; overall, I think I've mapped out a pretty clear (some days) path. Unnecessary pit stops (read: networking events)just aren't a part of the navigation right now and just don't work for me.

  6. @Davina--I think your approach is smart. I love meeting people outside of my PR/marketing/social media circles, because well, sometimes it's fun to talk about something other than Twitter for a change!
    @Blayne--Thanks for stopping by! I'm looking forward to checking out your blog, too.
    @TBS--I could write an entire post about networking event fatigue in Atlanta. I love that you are offering events that bring together different people and aren't just the usual suspects.

  7. Great post, Laura. I'm now thinking of starting a SXSW Brisbane: just a coffee shop meet for people I want to see in person. :)

  8. You are right about networking outside of our own circle. But the thing with something like SXSW is you get to meet the insiders and thought leaders in the community. You may already know them from Twitter but you can talk to them face to face even if only for a few moments. It is when this happens maybe you do learn something new and interesting? Just a silver lining even though I heard the 140 conference is better for networking and stuff because it is a smaller group of people.

  9. I am a huge fan of networking whether it is face to face or by social media, however I have seen my business grow more with that face to face interaction. People can talk about my tweets all day long but to actually put a human touch to my tweets and my magazine goes a long way. I understand the difficulties in making every conference to have that human interaction with all your followers but I would definitely pick and chose the most popular ones. Just my two cents for the day!

  10. Hi Laura - great post but I think you're missing a big point. SXSW IS the perfect chance to meet those people you don't know and get out of your comfort zone in the name of extending your network and learning. When the entire universe of social media/tech, etc converges in one place for a week, you can sit down in almost any corner and meet some kick-ass person who shares the same passion as you and has new ideas about things. Those discusssions and introductions will serve you well.

    As long as you're willing to travel without your normal local posse and break out to meet new people, in my opinion, conferences like these ARE the best way to deepen your understanding and expand your network (and i'm not talking about the "insiders" - I'm talking about anyone who shares your passion). It's not about the parties - it's about the relationships. Just my 2 cents.

  11. @Jamie--I definitely agree with you about thought leaders and insiders. There are many people I would LOVE to have one-on-one conversations with. But I prefer one-on-one meetings and correspondence--easier than when people are getting mobbed by fans and busy with other responsibilities. We're actually getting 140 here in Atlanta this year, so I'll be sure to check it out and let you know!
    @Amanda--I'm a big warm and fuzzy fan, too! I LOVE face-to-face meetings, but I find that for the most part, I don't meet new clients and partners at Tweet-ups or industry conferences. I find a lot of them online, and then meet face-to-face. But I definitely agree about the human touch--thanks for commenting!

  12. Ha! I just saw this. Yes, indeed...great minds.


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