Calling All Creeps: A Guide to Appropriate Networking
When did meetup groups, marketing events, and SEO conferences turn into the equivalent of singles mixers for the internet crowd?
After delving into the world of SEO and inbound marketing networking events, I quickly found that – for many in our industry – it was less about making professional connections to advance your career and more about people creeping on unsuspecting interns and trying to get phone numbers from keynote speakers.
I kind of get it – I mean when you mix alcohol with anything, it tends to bring out the creep in some people, male or female, but I’m making the announcement today: SEO world – let’s tone it down a bit.
I’m sure there are those in the networking realm looking to mix business with pleasure or possibly meet the next Mr. Right over link juice and algorithm banter, but I think it’s safe to say that’s not the norm. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d like to think most people at SEO meetups, MozCon, and even SearchLove (although the name is a bit deceiving) are actually attending in order to improve their professional network, learn a few tips, and have inspiring conversations on topics like “are No Follow links still useful?”, “data sources for visualization projects“, and “have you seen the status of Rand’s ‘stache lately? He must condition.”
So, if most of us are practicing our networking skills, why is it that my coworkers always have a creeper story after each event? It seems there are still a few in the inbound marketing world who need a refresher on appropriate networking skills.
In an attempt to help out, here is a brief – but apparently necessary – list of the dos and don’ts of professional networking:
Do go up to groups of strangers and confidently introduce yourself
It’s pretty hard to network if you never talk to anyone besides your coworkers, so get off that wall and go mingle. It can be intimidating, but everyone is in the same boat so don’t be shy. When approaching a group, I recommend waiting until there is a lull in conversation, walking over and simply saying “may I join this conversation?” It may sound awkward and brazen but it results in a rather smooth introduction opportunity and makes your presence known without having to lurk around, waiting for someone to notice you standing there.
Don’t butt into random conversations mid sentence
I don’t know about you, but this drives me nuts in my personal life, and even more so in my professional one. There is no better way to make an uncomfortable entrance and ruin the flow of a conversation than butting in to introduce yourself while someone is talking. Just wait a minute or two for a natural break in the convo before making your move.
Don’t linger until someone finally notices you awkwardly nodding and smiling
I think we’ve all probably done this at some point and or at least seen someone do it and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. When it comes to networking, no one should have to go up to you standing silently and ask what your name is, a.k.a. what are you doing creeping on this conversation? Make sure to introduce yourself first and foremost.
Do keep the conversation casual
Sure you’re in a professional environment, but we all have personalities (well at least most of us do) and just because it’s a work event, doesn’t mean it should be stuffy. Have fun with it, joke around (appropriately) and get to know people on a friendly level.
Don’t confuse friendly conversation with flirting
On that note, as a friendly young professional, my outgoing personality and constant smile are often confused with flirtation. I think the best way to approach any sort of interaction at a networking event is exactly that. We are all trying to meet new people in our industry, so just because a man or woman picks you out of a crowd and zeros in to speak with you, assume it’s for professional reasons and don’t start spouting off your long list of cheesy pickup lines. It’s a meetup, not college night at the local country bar. No one wants to experience that, especially in front of their colleagues or worse – their boss.
Don’t try to guilt trip a company into hiring you
This one comes from personal experience when a coworker and I were attending an SEO meetup event and made the mistake of wearing a hat and shirt with our company logo. A man came up to us and after a few minutes of conversation, not so slyly dropped the bomb that he had applied for a job with us a few times and never heard back. Can we say awkward? Our only response was something along the lines of, “I’m sorry to hear that” and we both proceeded to quickly find excuses to leave the conversation. Needless to say, I don’t think he’ll be getting the job any time soon.
Do ask for contact information, don’t ask for digits
It’s obviously important to carry business cards at any networking event or conference and it’s expected to get a few throughout an evening. Asking for or offering a card is a legitimate way to make a professional connection and keep in touch without giving off the vibe that you are interested in a dinner date. If for some reason, the person you’re speaking with does not have a business card, social media can be your friend. Simply ask if they are on LinkedIn or even Twitter so you can get in touch in the future. This is a completely non-creepy way to suggest you keep in contact without giving off the wrong impression.
I’m sure we’ve all had our fair share of less than desirable interactions at SEO and marketing networking events, so please share your Rated PG stories in the comments below.