12 Networking Tips for Philadelphians Who Hate Networking

Here's how to survive your next social event, expand your contact list and make a name for yourself on social media.

Photo by Rawpixel

If you hate networking, you’re not alone. According to a Forbes report, some people have reported feeling literally dirty when they network to advance their careers, “so much so that they think about taking a shower or brushing their teeth.” That’s extreme, but the same report confirmed that networking is still the best way to advance our careers, whether that’s getting ahead at work or landing a new job. And don’t let Philly’s small-town feel convince you that networking in the City of Brotherly Love isn’t worth it. The possibilities are endless, eight local networking pros tell us. Here are their best tips for surviving your next event, building that contact list and solidifying your identity on social media:

Never Say No to a Coffee Meeting

My two pieces of advice to a networking newbie are to do your research and never turn down a coffee meeting. Having a good working knowledge of the local community will enable you to better understand the people who make it up and identify who among them will be most mutually beneficial to partner with. CloudMine has found this to be especially important in communities like healthcare where collaboration is critical. If someone proactively reaches out, meet over coffee. A one-on-one meeting is a great way to establish a deeper working relationship, and key to building a quality network. – Corey Crawford, CloudMine

Join Industry Associations

Joining industry/trade associations is the best way, because their focus is to identify and build connections across their membership. It also gives you an excuse to email people cold, because you share a common affiliation. – Omar Woodard, GreenLight Fund Philadelphia

Know Exactly Why You Want to Expand Your Contact List

Don’t network. Build authentic relationships. Start with why. Why are you interested in expanding your contact list? To further your current career? Switch to a new career? Start volunteering for various nonprofits? Once you have determined what it is you are hoping to accomplish, make a list of professionals you find inspiring and motivating in that space and ask them for an informational interview. Cold emails are fine, be respectful. State who you are, the purpose of the interview and outline three to five questions you would like to go over. Offer to meet for coffee but if the person is unable, offer up the opportunity for a phone call or for them to simply respond to the email. One of the many advantages of being in Philly is the easy access to NYC and DC. Don’t limit yourself! – Archna Sahay, Jeremy Nowak Consulting

Take Interest In a Topic First, Then the People 

Get curious about something that’s meaningful to you. I think people begin with “who” but they should really start with “what.” Whether it’s behavioral science, innovation, design or art, get inspired with a good book or podcast so when you head to the next event or meeting you will have something you want to discuss. You can meet the right person anywhere, but for you to make that meeting meaningful, you need to first be inspired. Plus, once you’re inspired, the people you meet have something to respond to, and they can situate you within their network and connect you to the right people. – Ari Kushner, Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia

Learn People’s Stories

Everyone has a story. Everyone. One tip to great networking is to find out a person’s story quickly, appropriately, and authentically. There are people that do this beautifully. Because it truly is an art form to understand the delicate balance of asking and listening, usually in a short period of time, that allows people to let down their guards, and then build trust, comfort, and commonality. But once you are able to master this technique of “capturing a story”, especially within social networking environments, the world opens up to establishing and creating long lasting relationships. – Brigitte Daniel, Wilco Electronic Systems, Inc.

Ask Questions, Speak Less

Ask a question. What is something that person is learning? Critically, make sure you’re asking more questions than speaking. Have your own introduction down to a concise and simple premise. No one has ever finished a conversation at a networking event and said, “Wow, I wish that person spoke more.” If you’re at an event where there was programming, you might bring up something you learned or appreciated about that speaker. – Chris Wink, Technical.ly Media

Take Body Language Cues

Be mindful of body language, that helps give you a signal regarding how approachable someone is. If someone is already talking to someone or in a small group, best to find someone else who is looking to connect with someone as well. Sometimes events post attendance lists in advance or you may know an acquaintance who is going. Try to find someone who can help you break the ice to get started in conversation. Finally, people love to talk about themselves so I also start by asking lots of questions, that way it is easy to find common ground to make a real connection either around professional or personal interests. – Laurie Actman, Penn Center for Innovation

Remember Key Details and Follow Up

My favorite first question to a stranger is, what is keeping you busy?” People respond with both professional and personal examples that give a window into what their interests are, and what they care about. By building upon that, you can identify shared interests and develop a familiarity and comfort level with the person. Always remember to capture important info (kids names, hobbies, etc.) to add to a followup email so they know you were listening! – Omar Woodard

Take Advantage of Birthdays on Social Media

Once you’re connected to someone on a social social media site, you’re basically connected with them for life. When they update information about themselves or post something on their page, you will be able know about it. My favorite day in the world is the day that one of my contacts has a birthday. Why? Because it gives me a great opportunity to check in with them and simply wish them a happy birthday. It shows your contact that you thought of them, but you never know what that could bring. Many times, I’ll also use their birthday as a way to take a look at their posts and see if there are ways that we can help one another. – Wayne Kimmel, SeventySix Capital

Establish Yourself as a Curator Online

I’m a big social media fan generally and think it can be a way to form some initial networking connections. Retweeting or commenting on someone’s posts can help forge a connection. I feel like I now have a community of people who know me solely through social media. I’ve even had more than a few connections from social media ask to meet in person to create a more permanent relationship. In terms of content, decide how you want to position yourself. Do you want to be seen as an expert in a certain area, promote certain causes or activities? I think the key is to establish yourself as someone who is good at curating an interesting story around a few key topics to build your base of followers and to position your brand. In terms of posting I generally use social media platforms the following way:

  • LinkedIn: Professional topics only
  • Twitter: Mainly professional topics with some fun personal topics thrown in
  • Facebook: Mainly personal with a few professional posts thrown in (avoid FB if you don’t want to see many photos of my kids playing sports)
  • Instagram: Mainly personal with a few professional posts thrown in (ditto) – Laurie Actman

Use Your Voice on Social Media

I think there are two basic forms of effective social media presences: a curator who shares and likes stories in particular subject areas and a generator who adds their own voice to the mix. The former is a great place to start, because you can amplify and add value to those whose posts you share. It also allows you to begin building your personal brand online, because you might become known as a gatekeeper to certain knowledge workers or disciplines. Even more valuable, and perhaps curating can be a stepping stone to content generation, is to actually share and/or respond to others with your own voice. What do you bring to the table that’s unique? If you aren’t an expert, can you still ask good questions? Seth Godin writes a paragraph every few days and millions of people consume it. You don’t need to write long-format blogs like Shane Parrish (Farnam Street Blog and he also has a great podcast too!), but in establishing your own voice, you can begin to add more value to online conversations. This type of presence is more rare because it’s a risk to be authentic online, and assuming your contributions are a value add, you will be respected and rewarded for daring to share! Check out Antoinette Marie Johnson, Amy Hoy, Streets Dept. (Conrad Benner), Michael O’Bryan, Tayyib Smith, Will Tyrone Toms, and Tiffany Tavarez on various social channels for great local examples of this! – Ari Kushner

Don’t Forget About Email

Social media is a wonderful tool to learn about the hot topics in your industry, influential voices, future trends, etc. Each platform tends to lend itself to a specific culture. For example, Instagram is where many creatives hang out because of the visual aspect of the platform. When it comes to building those relationships, however, I think email is still the best tool. I am a heavy Twitter user and will engage in conversation but longer, ongoing conversations always convert to email. – Archna Sahay

Andrew Turco is a research assistant at Philadelphia magazine. Additional reporting by Fabiola Cineas.