Today I had a chat with networking supremo Neal Schaffer who is an author, speaker and prolific blogger. In this interview Neal talks about his background, his Far Eastern connection and shares his best social media and networking tips.
What is your day job Neal?
I am President of a social media strategic consultancy called Windmills Marketing, where I help businesses with their social media strategy and implementation. I also speak frequently on social media-related topics and am the author of “Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn.”
Who would be your typical client?
My typical client is a company who has a basic understanding for the potential of social media but is looking to leverage expertise to quickly ramp up their social media efforts. I have clients who are start-ups as well as Fortune 500 companies. As every company is already or will be utilizing social media in one form or another, it’s hard to define a “typical” client because of the varied sized and industries from which my clients naturally come from.
How did you get into networking?
That’s a great question! I actually started realizing the importance of networking when I studied in China as a college student. All of the Chinese would talk about the importance of “guanxi” or connections. Networking for them was not only part of their daily life, but it was essential to help them get ahead. Networking for them was not only part of their daily life, but it was essential to help them get ahead.
Later, as a sales executive in high technology, I realized the importance of networking in order to get new leads, help close deals, and even in supporting customers. I also realized, in my previous industry, that people would often leave one company and go to another one in the same industry. I joked with my wife about the “revolving door” of jobs that seemed to exist. This is all because these professionals were networking and maintaining relationships with partners as well as competitors. I realized that this was necessary for my career as well.
Fast-forward to early, 2008 when I found myself in transition in my native US for the first time after living in Asia for 15 years. I had moved back to an area where I had no local network: my entire network was in Asia or in other parts of the U.S. I realized that I had to build up a network as part of my job search, and this is where I embraced LinkedIn and became a LinkedIn LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) to help achieve this goal. I’ve been a natural networker ever since.
What are you best tips for networking?
Be proactive. Don’t be shy. Always ask how you can help others, and think of other people that you may be able to introduce people that you meet to. Listen before speaking. Pay it forward. Think that every time you meet someone it is a potential networking opportunity.
Do personal branding and networking overlap?
Absolutely! Everything you do networking-wise, online or offline, will be judged, consciously or unconsciously, by those that you interact with. That, in essence, becomes your personal brand. So the art of personal branding is proactively taking control of how people see you, showing your strengths and differentiating aspects of who you are.
How important is an elevator pitch?
Essential. People don’t have time. When meeting someone at a networking event, in a job interview, or doing business, your elevator pitch will determine whether or not you can proceed to the next step. Craft it and perfect it.
What’s your take on organizations like BNI?
Interesting question. First off, although I have never been a member of any of these types of organizations, I personally know a lot of people that have joined BNI and have gotten a lot out of it. I have always been part of the “you shouldn’t need to pay to network” type, so if you are a good networker you may not have as much of a need for BNI. If you don’t think that you are a good networker, or are looking for a potentially (not guaranteed) stable source of leads, you may want to look into BNI, Le Tip or similar organizations. I believe that social media may have diminished the importance of these types of groups, but I may be wrong…
How has social media changed networking?
Social media has given us the opportunity to virtually network, and now we are bringing those connections offline through tweetups and other events. We also now use social media to help promote the events, so it is like a tornado where the more we use social media, the more we tend to network, and the more we network, the more we end up using social media!
Which social media platforms and tools do you use?
As you know, I’m always telling people “Don’t fondle the hammer!” In other words, I try not to concentrate on the tools but instead on the objective, strategy, and engagement. But since you ask me, my favorite social media sites are: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Business Exchange, with Delicious and SlideShare in my 2nd tier of favorites. As far as “tools” I use HootSuite and the various Firefox Extensions for the social media sites…because they don’t exist for Safari! Other than that I like to use Topsy.com to look for relevant content that has been tweeted.
Tell us about your Japanese link and their take on networking
I grew up in a part of Los Angeles where there were a lot of Asian-Americans, and at one point in high school most of my good friends were either Americans of Chinese, Japanese or Korean descent. I wanted to understand this link, so I made the effort to learn Chinese in college and spend my Junior year abroad there. I was actually in Beijing during the whole Tian An Men incident, so when I came back to the US for my senior year, I studied Japanese and decided to start my career in Japan. I ended up living there for 15 years!
Interestingly enough, I always thought of Japan as more of a closed networking society, especially compared to my experiences in China as well as my native America. Sure, there was networking within my industry, but the traditional Japanese perspective is that they work at the same company for a lifetime, so the only networking need that they have is to network within their company and solidify those relationships. Obviously, with the decade-long recession there, aging population, and layoffs over the last several years, the landscape has changed and more and people are starting to see the value of networking there. I think that this also partially explains the recent spike in the popularity of Twitter in Japan.
What has Neal got in the pipeline at the moment?
Glad you asked! I am working hard on completing my 2nd book, which will be about Twitter. I am also looking at starting a series of webinars, both paid training sessions as well as free ones where I bring together people that I have respect for and we create unique “mash-up” types of content for our audiences. I still see a need for educating professionals and businesses, and I would like to use my time to reach out to as many as possible. If interested, make sure you sign up to my mailing list to stay informed!
Final words of wisdom?
I think it was Woody Allen who said “80% of success is about showing up.” I always try to show up, everywhere.
Neal Schaffer is the creator of the Windmill Networking Blog on Social Media Strategy and is also the President of Windmills Marketing, a social media marketing strategic consultancy that has helped severalcompanies from a variety of industries with their social media strategy creation and implementation.
Neal is also an internationally recognized speaker on a variety of social media-related topics. For more information on my speaking topics as well as future and past speaking events, please visit Neal Schaffer’s Speaking Page.
Neal is also the author of the currently best-selling LinkedIn book on Amazon, “Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn.” For more information on his books, please visit his Book Page.
Be sure to follow Neal on Twitter @nealschaffer.