Break into a cold sweat at the mention of the word ‘networking’? You’re not alone. Luckily, tech expert, journalist and author of the brilliant Working The Cloud Kate Russell is here to save the day…
Some people are born naturals when it comes to networking. For others it’s a chore fraught with the constant risk of making a social faux pas like forgetting someone’s name (or worse still forgetting your own – it can happen under pressure). Meeting someone for the first time at a conference or networking event is always a bit awkward, and that’s when I usually turn to the Internet for help.
I’m not talking about throwing in a couple of killer ice-breakers like a screenshot of a breaded cats search on your smartphone (or the infinitely more disturbing dogs in tights), though ice-breakers are a great tool in the right kind of situation.
For a more business-like approach however there are plenty of free tools you can use to ease networking fatigue. I think most people have trouble remembering faces when they meet a lot of them, so it’s useful to have some kind of contact management system setup right from the start.
Card Cloud is a free app for Android and Apple smartphones that acts as a virtual business card you can swap with other users. If your contact doesn’t want to download the Card Cloud app to swap information you can send it via email or through the mobile site. In this instance their details can be entered into your contacts list by hand, using the location marker and comments to add important context about where and why you met.
With Google’s Gmail being such a widely used service there are oodles of great browser add-ons that give you a more personalised and streamlined email experience. Add-ons are quick and easy to install as they just make a tweak to an existing programme – in the case of Rapportive that’s your online email interface when viewed in Firefox or Chrome browsers. This plugin joins up all the dots by letting you see your Gmail contacts’ social connections, pulling up a photo, location and job description beside every incoming message.
Gist offers a very similar service, bringing together all your contacts’ social streams to give you up to the minute information about what they are posting, where. There’s a Gmail add-on for Firefox and Chrome, or you can sign up for the full experience and suck all your email communications and your main social interactions through a central dashboard on Gist. The free smartphone apps for Apple, Android and Blackberry put all this information in the palm of your hand; a powerful source of intelligence for the hyper-connected lifestyle.
With social media being so ubiquitous it’s possible you’re already connected to someone who can help with your business ambitions but you don’t even know it. GetLunched.com is a networking site that lets you browse your LinkedIn contacts and registered users to see if anyone local has the skills you need to progress your idea. If you see someone of interest you can offer to buy them lunch for a meeting and a chat. The website will make the approach for you and will even help find a discounted restaurant or suitable venue close by, though you’re not obligated to choose their suggestions. Now hopefully that accountant you vaguely know through LinkedIn can be persuaded to give you advice on setting up your company for the cost of a £30 lunch? You might even make a new friend and ally too.
BIOGRAPHY: Kate Russell has been writing about technology, gaming and the Internet since 1995 and now appears weekly on BBC2 and BBC World News, reporting for technology programme Click. A regular expert on the sofa at ITV’s Daybreak and various other TV and radio stations, she writes columns for National Geographic Traveller magazine and Web User magazine. Her book ‘Working the Cloud’ and companion website workingthecloud.biz is the ultimate collection of online tips, tricks and resources for small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs who want to get ahead online. You can order it at http://bit.ly/orderworkingthecloud, or just come along to http://workingthecloud.biz to read the latest news and features. See you there!