Social media is the perfect medium for someone like me – someone who’s an introvert, a bit on the shy side, and prefers to have the safety of being behind a computer screen rather than face-to-face. 

But if you’re using social media to be…well, social…and you’d like it to lead to business development opportunities, you’ve got to take it offline. While it’s possible to build relationships online, and to nurture them there, you cannot discount the benefit to meeting someone face-to-face. 

A conference is the perfect opportunity for this, and I’ll tell you a story about how social media has enriched my conference experience at the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Meeting (which I’m currently en-route to – I love airplane wifi!). 

I joined the ILN back in 2004, and in search of an organization that could help further educate me in the legal marketing arena, I stumbled on the LMA thanks to one of our firm’s marketing professionals.  The first conference I went to was in 2005, and since then, I’ve only missed one due to an overlap with our Asia Pacific Meeting. For the first few years, I’d arrive at the conference and feel like a total wallflower. I met a few people, and would force myself to sit down at tables with no one I knew and say hello, but I felt like it was a hard group to break into – people either knew each other from years past, or they had come in groups from their firms. 

And while everyone was friendly, I didn’t really have a group to hang out with and learn from. Being really shy means that my mind goes entirely blank whenever I meet someone totally new to me – even when we have the shared experience of working with lawyers.

Enter social media. I’d already joined LinkedIn and Facebook, but neither of those gave me the networking with new connections in my industry that I was looking for. Then, I joined Twitter. Because I started out there so early on, it was a pretty small community and I got to know everyone in the legal industry on there pretty quickly. 

Working in a two-person office means that I have only one other co-worker, our Executive Director, and I was really looking for some legal marketing colleagues to bounce ideas off of and talk to about questions I had during the day.  On Twitter, in those early days, I found that. At the same time, we also shared things about our personal lives and lo and behold, I made friends.

So when we finally met in person at a conference four years ago in National Harbor, Maryland, we were already connected in so many ways – so rather than making small talk, we fell into comfortable friendships and professional relationships that have enriched my conference experience immeasurably. 

Whereas before, I would spend a lot of time in my hotel room, trying to force myself to go to various events and meet people, now, I already had a group of people to talk to, to introduce me around, to eat with (a LOT of networking happens over meals, by the way).  And it was easy to welcome others too – the next year, in Denver, Laura Toledo (nee Gutierrez) reached out on Twitter, hoping to connect with us in person. We met her the first night, and last November, I attended her wedding. 

Others have reached out on Twitter and said things like "I’m in XYZ session, who else is in here?" and I’ll look around the room to catch their eye, or set up a meeting in the hallway for after the session. The lines have blurred between people that I know only online, and those I’ve also met in person, and it’s wonderful.  I’m no longer a hermit in my hotel room. 

My dear friend, Nancy Myrland, talks about reaching out and finding her because she loves to meet new people, and to make first timers and shy folks (like myself) feel comfortable and welcomed by our community.  She really does love networking, and she does mean it when she tells people that she’ll give them a hug if they want one (I’ve seen her do it). But as she mentions early in her post, not everyone is wired that way – I’m certainly not; it still surprises me a little when people actually want to talk to me! 

So I wanted to write this post and say that if you’re attending a conference – the LMA or one in your own industry – head over to Twitter and sign up.  Check the conference website to see if there is a hashtag for the conference because that’s where you’re going to find other people also attending, and you can reach out to them before you even arrive. Arrange to meet up with them the first night for dinner or drinks, just to break the ice, and start conversations with them online first – it makes the transition when you arrive at the conference so much more seamless. 

Tweet during the conference and look for opportunities to meet up with people – my LMA friends and I will often tweet where we’re sitting for lunch, or try to get a group together for dinner to make sure that anyone flying solo doesn’t feel alone. We’ve all been there. Twitter is a way to reach out to the conference speakers as well – see someone you particularly liked? Tweet out a message to them and connect to them on LinkedIn. Keep those conversations going after the conference is over. 

If you’re also a blogger, like me, it can be useful to add your thoughts into the conversation during and after the conference – learn something particularly inspiring? Blog about it and share it with the conference hashtag. People at the conference and those not able to attend will find it valuable, and it will give you the opportunity to meet more people the following year. 

My friend, Heather Morse, told us this week to bring our passion to LMA13 and for me, that’s social media. Not only because it’s a valuable business development tool – when you use it to build relationships in a smart way – but because I’ve made lifelong and incredibly close friends, who bring me out of my shell, inspire me with their professional brilliance, and challenge me to be a better legal marketer.