Navigating cyberspace


A social media wallflower learns to work the room

I've attended too many social gatherings over the years hoping that my networking efforts would eventually put good-paying freight on my trucks. People my age call it “working the room.” I could never understand folks who attended cocktail parties but didn't engage others. Social media is today's cocktail party. The day I began adding “friends” on Facebook was the day I thought I was on my way to getting involved. Fast-forward 12 months and I have a Facebook page that I look at less than once a month, 490 LinkedIn contacts I still don't know, and zero new business. I would have been better off printing brochures and cold calling. It seemed like such a waste of time.

Looking back, I realized that I was the guy at the party in the corner waiting for the world to come to him. I never worked the room. Converting LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and other relationships into business is a lot more complex than I anticipated. Here are a few things I'm going to try this year to improve my results.

Getting to the party

My tech skills consist of hitting “on” and “accept” buttons, but my instincts about what makes people tick are pretty sharp. As I was eating my Corn Flakes one morning, watching my kids thumb away at their fancy smartphones, I realized that social media works best when you can access it anywhere.

Nearly 45% of active Facebook users access the site through their mobile device. It's close to 55% for Twitter users. I'm not among them. By the time I find a WiFi connection and boot up my laptop, I'm busy doing something else. So I'm upgrading my Fred Flintstone-age BlackBerry to something that runs the mobile apps I need, and I've enlisted three consultants to help their “Dumb Dad” get in the game.

Find the right party

Joining transportation and logistics-related discussion groups was easy. Getting something out of them was not. Everyone who posted either was tooting their own horn, looking for a job, or trying to sell me something. I tuned out. Now I've cut back to two discussion groups: one professional and one personal. A subject I'm passionate about — yep, hockey — will add a fun factor while I learn the ins and outs of working the room.

Shake some hands

Extending your hand used to be the best way to greet new people. Today, shaking someone's hand means posting a compelling article, commenting on someone's blog, or asking a group for advice. There is no way you'll meet anyone at a party unless you reach out and say hi.

The goal isn't to sell; it's to attract. It's more important to be a trusted and reliable source of information than a pushy freight pimp.

Build relationships

Following customers, competitors, and suppliers can deliver loads of valuable information. Before any meeting I'm using social media to learn as much as I can about the company and the person I'm about to do business with. You can never have enough current information on existing customers, employees, or the dog trying to steal your bone.

Talk to me

As a columnist, I get truckloads of requests from companies asking me to write about their $29.99 gadget that guarantees 35% fuel savings. Since I've been putting pen to paper professionally, it's been a policy of mine never to overtly promote anything, including my company or me. But I will say this: I'm officially on Twitter at @AceMcC (I signed up on my own, without any help from my kids). I invite you to follow me, check out who I follow, and ask questions about trucking. Or hockey. Either way, I look forward to working the room and getting to know you.

Mike McCarron is managing partner at the MSM Group of Companies, which specializes in transportation and logistics service between Canada and the United States.

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