Networking: Building Your Contacts in New, More Effective Ways

Everyone knows the rote mechanics of traditional networking: handshakes, elevator pitches, business cards and, if you work for a company, handing out free pens. So many free pens.

But such old-school methods of networking aren’t always effective, especially for a younger generation that would rather spend time on social media than shaking hands on a convention center floor (and filling up their shoulder bag with free pens). This generation is armed with an updated arsenal of networking tactics that blend art and technology with social media and face-to-face interaction.

Podcasting (and Other Methods)

For Craig Herndon, the 28-year-old CEO of Boston VR, a non-profit organization responsible for popular hackathons such as the annual Reality Virtually Hackathon and Discover events, networking is a critical aspect of his job, which focuses on the promotion and integration of events with the Boston community.

“I wear a lot of different hats, and that drives a lot of the networking that I do,” he explained. “When you walk into a room you need a goal, and when you’re introducing yourself to people, you want to make sure you are clearly representing who you are and what you do—it’s important to stay on track.”

For Herdon, using his podcast as a way to build professional contacts has borne successful results—in part because it makes the process of networking a two-way street. “It’s a way to build a relationship because now you’re providing them with a platform to get their information out there,” he said. “At the same time, I’m learning about what they’re doing.”

Using a variety of platforms is also a key method to ensure you’re building the broadest community possible by providing multiple outlets to reach out and contact you—from Twitter to Slack to LinkedIn. “It’s important to have a lot of different channels for people to interact with and contact people outside of just the normal Meetup events, which is how we got started,” Herdon added.

Consider Long Distance

Mike Morris, CEO of Topcoder, a global community of more than a million design, development and data science experts, as well as global head of crowdsourcing for IT services specialist Wipro, explained that “long gone” are the days where the number of face-to-face time hours logged is indicative of networking success.

“In today’s growing gig economy, mobile technology, social media and the web enable employers to look beyond location and cultural barriers to identify the most talented resources for a job, and empower employees and contract workers with limitless opportunities to learn and earn,” he said.

He noted that becoming adept at digital, long-distance networking is a good strategy, as the real key is to “meet people where they are, not where you would like them to be.”

For example, community-based networking, where professionals with similar interests and goals share experiences and contacts, is a faster way to identify and qualify individuals and opportunities that might be a fit.

“In the past, talent could be traced back to the educational systems and regional opportunities people had available to them,” he said. “Now, the internet, massive open online courses (MOOCs), teachers and educational platforms have flipped learning models upside down and empowered people with DIY capabilities.”

Ayesha Asghar, a software analyst and database architect currently completing her Master’s degree in Computer Science Engineering at the University of Liverpool, explained how she has seen a revolution in networking since she completed her undergrad computer science degree in Pakistan.

Mobile technology and social media have played a conclusive role in building up her professional network, offering a “one-click” approach she finds saves time, be it through Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn or Facebook.

“As an introvert, it has been uncomfortable for me at times in networking events especially when you do not have any acquaintances with you,” she said. “Here the online network comes to the rescue; you will always know who else would be going.”

While she believes digital networking certainly is convenient and globally accessible, she thinks face-to-face networking will ultimately never lose its supremacy.

“We being humans are social animals, and so physical presence is not something that online or mobile conversations can supersede easily,” Asghar said. “Some may argue video conferences or video calls might a substitute, but still, it lacks physical manifestation. I would call alternative networking as icing on the cake or an add-on that lets you keep a step ahead of the game.”

When Networking, Focus on the Big Ideas

Networking doesn’t have to be confined to narrow professional parameters either—a monthly salon staged inside MotionLab.Berlin, a co-working space with high-tech labs, 3D printing and private maker garages, plays host to a creative community with the aim of connecting talent, sharing resources, and fostering dialogue on critical issues in technology and art.

The 31-year-old founder and curator of the Tech Art Salon is Q. Lei, who graduated from Princeton University with a Philosophy of Science degree and currently splits her time between Berlin and Shenzhen, China’s tech capital.

Over the course of an evening, artists and tech entrepreneurs pitch their works in progress under a designated topic—this month, the issues covered include artificial intelligence (A.I.) and creativity, the translation of ancient knowledge to the digital age, and algorithms and the freedom of music.

The evening is for anyone who is interested in exploring the relationship between technology and art, to share their opinions on important social issues related to the latest technologies—and find like-minded individuals they can partner with on the path to realizing their vision.

“What I see in Shenzhen are a lot of tech companies that lack content, and with a lot of new technologies being developed these days like VR, AR, big data, robotics—they need a lot of content,” Lei explained. “On the contrary, here in Berlin, there is the urge to play with new technologies, but they are not as well-funded. They need a lot of resources, in terms of new machines and in terms of funding. Between these two worlds in the opportunity for productive exchange.”

She says a city like Shenzhen can benefit a lot by having good art content; instead of investing in a research team, they could benefit from artists in residence—someone who is trying to think outside the box and predict future trends in art and technology.

Lei uses social media platforms ranging from Facebook to Instagram to Meetup to YouTube to spread the word and promote her events, all with the end goal of bringing people together in real life to exchange ideas—whether it’s an Australian machine learning entrepreneur tacking climate change issues, or a Big Data analytics expert from Bucharest who also runs an electronic music studio.

“Basically I curate for the community—I’m finding people directly from the tech-art community, people who are doing creative coding, software engineering, tech startups, and artists—these are my target audiences,” she said.

Lei is currently setting up the same operation in Shenzhen, where she recently received an invitation from the Southern University of Science and Technology to come and pitch the idea of a media lab, similar to the idea incubators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and New York University.

“I think this type of thing is blooming, people are seeing the necessity of connecting art and technology, and playing with technology in a very out-of-the-box way,” she explained. “In Shenzhen, the government and the universities really are looking for interesting projects that can be developed in the city.”

It’s her belief that presentation is a key part of developing new technologies, and thinking creatively on a global scale can be fostered through the types of connections she’s trying to build.

 “When I launched social media for this community the response I got was just beyond my imagination—it was actually much quicker than I expected,” she said.

When networking, it’s about far more than just getting someone’s name and contact info—it’s about bonding over shared ideas, and figuring out how to best work together to tackle challenges that confront everyone in the technology industry. During networking conversations, try to find your shared passions.