Use Live Connections to Leverage Virtual Connections, to Gain new, important Live connections

I’ve written previously about using Social Networks to make connections for business, and even predicted in my recent talk at TIMA� (slides are there) that in 2008, people will “use of Real Life Events to make Virtual Connections that help you make Real (and Valuable) Connections.” This idea came from a talk I had with Jeff Pulver.

After that talk in Raleigh, NC, I reconnected with Chuck Hester, Director of Corporate Communications for iContact, a company that allows businesses, non-profit organizations, and associations to easily create, publish, and track email newsletters, surveys, blogs, autoresponders, and RSS feeds according to their site. Chuck told me how he used Social Networking service to find his current job, promote his own brand and his companys, and to do some good in the world.

When Chuck moved to Raleigh in 2005 he had only a few connections on LinkedIn, and only one or two in Raleigh. As a new person in town, Chuck began to network and add his connections to his online tools. When he left his previous employer, he searched his network connections in Raleigh for Software, Advertising and Marketing people to assist with his search. Ryan Allis invited him in to talk, and Chuck landed the job at iContact.

Around this time, Chuck started paying more attention to his Social Networking tools, and noticed that LinkedIn had a designation of 500+. When you get to 500 connections, they stop reporting your number of connections, and your name shows with a 500+ logo. So Chuck set a goal of exceeding that mark.

Around February, 2007 he decided to connect with the really big connectors. He joined several Yahoo groups where you can send out connection requests to all the members. Every time he got new connections via these groups, he looked at these new connections friend of a friend links, and messaged the 5 most relevant links to connect.

By June, Chuck had over 700 Raleigh connections and was getting lots of calls, doing coffees, getting together to meet people in person. One of his friends who is also very active in Raleigh said “Why not get all our connections in one room and create a Raleigh Network?” In July 2007 they invited their online friends to LinkedIn Live and 50 people showed up. One connection was a bar manager who provided a back room, and another connection was an advertising person who invited a reporter for the News and Observer. Sheattended the event with a photographer, and LinkedIn Live showed up on the front page of the Sunday Business section. People started asking Chuck When’s the next event?  They now have their meetings every other month, and it’s grown from 75 people to 120, to 170 showing up. People in other cities are asking Chuck how to start their own LinkedIn Live events.

How has this benefited Chuck and iContact? Brand Recognition. Everyone knows who I am, and the company I work for. If they need email marketing services, they think of us first. And, we’ve taken our recognition to larger audiences, with mentions on the Fast Company blog, Wall St. Journal, and even via Michelle Rafter at Inc. Magazine (who was a networking connection.)

Chuck’s advice to entrepreneurs is to use the tools that are part of your Social Networking platform. Connect with connectors – people in your network that have lots of connections, and find their connections who can be of value to you. Then, politely ask for introductions. You also have to reciprocate, so be conscious that your connections also have value, and share them with people who have been shown to be trustworthy. Your connections and the way you treat other people’s connections reflect on you. Finally, be part of the conversation. LinkedIn has a feature called “Answers” which allows people to ask questions and get opinions from their contacts. Chuck says, “When people ask questions, answer them if you can, and soon you’ll be known as a resource in your area of expertise.” While respecting the “no advertising” convention of  Answers, crafting a factual  answer that refers to something you’ve written or a service you’ve given another client can drive traffic to your own Blog or company website.