My previous post was intended to promote the Destination Kingston event hosted by the Science to Business Network (S2B) at Queen’s. The event turned out to be very well organized and well received by panelists and attendees, alike. The event was punctuated by an informal networking mixer, which allowed audience members (primarily Queen’s students) to interact with the diverse collection of panelists.
During the mixer, I observed an interaction that really caught my attention because it broke the mould of ‘conventional networking’: a student (Mena Soliman) approached one of the speakers and before the student had a chance to introduce himself, the speaker said, “Hey Mena! I was reading your tweets throughout the event, I especially like point x that you made. It’s really nice to meet you”.
Apparently this was the first time these two had every met face to face; however, they clearly have had interactions via social media platforms prior to this engagement. After their chat, I inquired as to how this interaction came to pass. In essence, the Mena said that he uses Twitter as a tool to network with researchers and professionals within his field, and that this approach has been very successful, especially at conferences.
For this Gradifying post, I share my insights into using Twitter to interact with colleagues in your field. For a future follow-up post, I would like to invite Mena to share his approach and experiences using Twitter at conferences.
Breaking the ice in a meaningful way
When networking at a professional event, the ‘cold-call’ introduction is naturally awkward but is a standard operating practice for meeting colleagues in your field.
To be successful in these interactions, you need to be memorable and it’s easy to be memorable if someone already knows who you are… even if they haven’t met you yet. Interacting with colleagues via Twitter allows you to start a dialogue on your terms, in a more meaningful and memorable way.
Using Twitter, you can direct content (links, articles, etc.) towards a colleague of interest, and if you catch their attention, initiate a topical conversation (as was the case at the S2B event). At the very least, this can be a jumping-off point to avoid the awkward, forced conversation when meeting an individual in person.
When doing this, take the time to infuse your own thoughts and ideas in the posts. You want to stand out and be memorable to this person, so take a stance or pose a thoughtful question related to the posted content. Chances are, your insight will be taken-up in some capacity by the individual, and hopefully this will translate to a meaningful discussion down the road.
Of course, if you are trying to start a conversation with an individual that rarely uses Twitter, chances are it is not the best medium for a meaningful interaction. It would be worth your while to do a ‘ Twitter background’ check on your colleague to see how active they are and get a sense for the type of content that they have already shared. This will provide you with a greater sense of your ‘audience’ if and when you do decide to tweet at them.
Creating your own image
In keeping with the idea of doing a background check on persons of interest, you must also consider that people will be doing background checks on YOUR activity. Allow your Twitter profile to reflect who you are and tell a story of what you are all about (professionally).
If you plan on using Twitter in a professional capacity, then make sure that your posts are within the realm of professionalism. I can think of an instance where a former grad student that I followed on Twitter would regularly post interesting articles about advances in their field AND also retweet/favourite posts of nearly naked women. Needless to say, the latter activity is not professional and likely will harm your chances of developing meaningful, professional relationships.
However, if you are not an idiot and maintain an active profile with interesting content, people who visit your profile can glean a lot of information about you. And if you work hard at it, your interactions with other colleagues in your field will be displayed on your profile, thus making you that much more memorable.
The beauty about this is you can build your image as you do your day-to-day schoolwork. Reading an interesting review? Post a reflection on it. Controversial news article? Tag a colleague and ask for their insight. Slowly, you can build up an online presence and relationships with people in your field without detracting from your work.
Putting it into action
If you don’t do this already, I challenge you to try. Try tweeting or tagging 5 prominent individuals in your field who are active on Twitter and see what happens. Do this ahead of conference season and who knows, maybe one of these individuals will be the one to approach you.