By Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

In July I introduced Heather Townsend's concept of 'Joined Up Networking', the skill of effectively using face-to-face and online networks together. Heather talks about her approach to networking extensively in her book The Financial Times Guide to Business Networking. I caught up with Heather last week and took the opportunity to ask a few questions to find out more about her approach.

Andy Lopata: What do you mean by joined up networking?

Heather Townsend: About 18 months ago, I couldn’t understand why everyone was saying that it was either face-to-face networking OR online networking. The online networking fans seemed to suggest that online was best. Whereas the face-to-face networking fans were telling me that online networking would never supersede face-to-face networking, because it was so much easier to quickly generate trust when meeting people in real life.

I know from experience that online networking is better than face-to-face for helping you reach a wider and deeper audience. However, trust is generated so much more quickly when you actually meet people in real life rather talking to them over the internet. So, why not use both types of networking within your networking strategy?

Joined up networking is where you use both online and face-to-face networking tools and techniques. As most professionals and business owners' time is limited, joined up networking allows you to pick the most effective networking tool, platform and process to help you achieve your business and career goals.

AL: Why is social media so important?

HT: Social media allows networkers to network – for the first time – from the comfort of their own home and at a time when they want to network. It means that no longer do networkers need to subject themselves to glasses of warm cheap white wine and nibbles or badly cooked bacon and eggs. (Unless of course, you want to!) Finally social media gives networkers significantly greater reach and depth, plus visibility of others' networks, which a little black book or online address book can never compete with.

AL: Which are your top 5 online networks?

HT: I don’t have a top 5 of online networks. In the same way that everyone has different people they want to meet, different online networks suit different people. However, I do recommend that every networker maintains a presence on LinkedIn and Twitter. When you are thinking about you and your network, you want to choose an online network where your target market hangs out.

AL: A lot of my clients complain that they don’t have enough time to spend online. What would you say to them?

HT: When people hear that I generate over 80% of my work via relationships which started or are maintained via social media, they are really keen to hear how I do it. One of the first questions which they ask me is how much time does it take. When I tell them that there is no quick fix or silver bullet and they will be spending an hour or more a day to generate the same level of results which I do via social media, they normally don’t look so enthusiastic at replicating my example.

To generate any meaningful results via online networking requires the same level of focus and discipline as face-to-face networking. It’s very easy to waste time with online networking – so aim to focus on a maximum of 3 social networking sites.

I always recommend to my clients that they schedule and delegate (without losing the engagement) with online networking. Can your secretary tweet for you? Can your Virtual Assistant find discussions for you to contribute to? How about using a service such as Google Alerts or and RSS reader to find content and discussion to interact with?

It is possible to generate a decent level of new business by just using LinkedIn for only 1 hour a week. Contrast this to the time spent at a face-to-face networking event – as long as you are focused in how you use on-line networking, it shouldn’t take up a large amount of time.

To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk / 01992 450488.

Labelled ‘One of Europe’s leading business networking strategists’ by the Financial Times, Andy Lopata helps businesses develop successful networking and referral generation strategies.

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