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A Modern Networking Story

Using Twitter to Create Valuable Offline Connections

By Nathan Rothstein (@nrothstein)

Despite the rise of social media tools, we still have pre-conceived notions about the proper way to network and meet new people. If two people meet at an event with name tags and exchange business cards, then we’ve done it “right.” In an ideal world, transferring contact information leads to a personal connection, but in reality, it usually gets added to our long list of “to do’s.” This tradition of exchanging contact info in person isn’t pointless, but a social media tool like Twitter gives us the opportunity to engage, connect, and work together in different, and maybe, just maybe—I don’t want to necessarily disagree with Gladwell—more powerful ways.

I love to learn how people initially connect with each other. Think about when you’ve asked a couple, “How did you meet?” What does this information provide you? When you learn about how a connection came to be, you learn something significant about the people involved. If two people say they met in college, you find out the school they attended, what they studied, etc. These are helpful conversation starters, things you talk about in the hope of forming a new bond. When you ask how business partners began working together, you inevitably learn about what they’re passionate about. Do their interests align with yours? Could you do business together someday? Bottom line: I want to know how people are connected because these relationships matter. Each connection is an investment. Some lead to large returns like a work partnership, some lead to a small exchange of resources or knowledge. Either way it matters. Here is one ‘modern networking’ story:

Last week, in my Social Entrepreneurship class at the Heller School at Brandeis, our speaker was Siiri Morley (@siirimorley). Siiri works at Prosperity Candle, a for-profit business that helps women in conflict zones earn an income by making candles sold in the United States. During our break, I introduced myself, but we had actually already met online. A few weeks earlier, Lex Schroeder (@lexschroeder) included both Siiri and I in her “Follow Friday” tweet on Twitter—something you do on Fridays to let your followers know who they should also follow. Lex tweeted “great thinkers/doers in social justice” and then listed our names among others. Upon seeing this, I clicked on Siiri’s profile and learned that she was also a grad of the Heller school. We exchanged a few compliments, all in public on Twitter, so others could easily see the nature of our connection. Siiri told me she would be presenting to our class on November 2nd. When the 2nd came, I “introduced’ myself in person.

“Hi Siiri, I’m Nathan.” She looked at me a little confused. I continued, “I’m friends with Lex.” She smiled, recognizing the connection. “Ohhh, yes, Nathan from Twitter. I didn’t recognize you.” We quickly started re-bonding over our connection with Lex, and then she asked me, “How do you know Lex?” “Through our work together in Boston,” I said, but then I paused and realized I had lied.

Lex and I had also met through Twitter. I was impressed with Lex’s involvement in the Boston nonprofit world, how she had crafted her own space and was making things happen. After spending four years in New Orleans, I was eager to connect with the Boston activist community. During our in-person meeting, we realized our offline selves also connected, and we made plans to collaborate. Why was I ashamed to say that? As soon as I heard that Siiri had also met Lex online, I told her the the real way we found each other. The next day, I tweeted “@siirimorley great presentation on @womenprosper @brandeisU,” and now our modern connection has been confirmed. It’s online and offline relationship, and we’ve both made a small investment in each other.

Twitter has a benefit many other social media tools lack: a way to connect with new people. This is the way it should be used, this is the way I use it, but in talking with Siiri, I discovered that I still didn’t feel like this was the “right” way to connect. By reaching out to Lex online, she and I were able to connect offline. Now we’ve collaborated on projects, attended each other’s events, and introduced each other to other activists in Boston.

Twitter is a great medium for finding new connections. This is why the technology exists, so let’s keep finding ways to reach out, connect online, and begin working together offline. It may not be the revolution, but it’s a great way to start one. I would love to hear how you have used Twitter to build offline connections. I’ll continue to share the ways I’m using it to find new information and find new connections, which hopefully leads to some good.

Nathan Rothstein is an MBA student in nonprofit management at Brandeis University. He spent the previous four years working in New Orleans launching social enterprises and helping progressive candidates run for political office. Nathan has been featured in The Boston Globe, USA Today, NECN, and The New Orleans Times-Picayune for his work. He has presented workshops on the subject of how young people can make a social impact at Yale, UMass-Amherst, Howard, MIT, Harvard, and Tulane University.

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