Yesterday, we talked about why you should build a content community (reminder: it’s not just about getting new clients). But today I want to talk about the harder task—actually doing it, actually building a community around yourself.
When someone asks me how I did, I always come back to principles. Rules and tactics (leave your business card, join national trade associations and your local chamber of commerce, maintain eye contact, and so on) will help you make a business contact, but principles are what will help you make the human connections you’re truly after. They’re what it takes to build a community.
So, here are the five principles that I live by. Let’s call them the Principles of Content Networking:
Be approachable. Whatever type of event you’re attending, including personal social occasions, be open to making a new connection. Smile and invite people to tell you their stories. You never know when you’re going to meet a professional storyteller flying under the radar.
Be a good listener. Networking, like all relationship-building, is less about talking and more about listening. Sure, you should be willing to share your stories, your business background, what you’re looking for. But before that, ask your key questions and listen carefully to the answers. This can save you from wasting time with followups that lead nowhere.
Be where the content pros are. If you want to buy a burrito, you don’t go to the Indian restaurant. You go to the Mexican one. Likewise, if you want to find a content professional, you need to go where they are. Here are a few places to look:
- Content strategy, marketing, social media, or blogging meet-ups via Meetup.com or LinkedIn groups. (Can’t find one in your area? Start one!)
- Conferences like Confab, Content Marketing World, and the growing list of others that specifically deal with content.
- Journalism conferences hosted by trade associations and organizations like Media Bistro.
- Twitter. Follow other content professionals, share great topical content, and they will come (or, even better, publish great content and offer free cake, and then they will come).
Be generous. With your time, your interest, your knowledge, and your connections. If you focus on providing value to the person you’re engaging with (whether that value is connecting them to a design agency, a new contract, or a client, listening to them work out a dilemma, or providing insight), he or she will return the favor when you’re in need.
Be fearless. Not every person enjoys meeting new people. In fact, many of the smartest content pros I know are naturally introverts. But don’t avoid making their acquaintance. Engage them anyway. Ask what they do and why they do it. Are you an introvert yourself? Remember that most strangers won’t know how to tell if you’re nervous (they don’t know you yet, after all). In either case, the easiest way to settle those nerves is to spark up the conversation. (And remember the points from No. 2 on this list.)
Content Networking in Action: My Confab Case Study
So how do these principles apply in real life? Here’s how they worked out for me last May, when I flew to Minneapolis for Confab: The Content Strategy Conference in an attempt to further build my national (and, indeed, international) community:
Be approachable: This one was easy. I signed up to volunteer, and wearing the blue volunteer shirt automatically makes you someone others can approach with confidence.
Be a good listener: As much as possible, I tried to open conversations with questions about the other person. And on Twitter I followed the conversations about Confab, listened, re-tweeted, and joined in.
Be where they are: I was at a content strategy conference—enough said, yes?
Be generous: I made myself available to grab lunch, ask questions, and answer them, too. Meanwhile, on Twitter, I regularly offered interesting details from the conference sessions, as well as my own insights and those of others around me.
Be fearless: The more people I approached, the more connections I made, the larger my content community became—and the more confident I am today.
I met a lot of wonderful people at Confab. I also signed contracts with two new clients and booked a speaker for my Denver-based content meetup, which grew by several members who also attended the conference.
And that was just one event.
Apply these principles to your work and life everyday, and they’ll pay off—in genuine connections to smart up-and-comers, opportunities to influence a larger community, ideas and advice from talented peers, and, of course, new business.