Have you resolved to network better in 2017? Take a cue from the old-fashioned networking tools of calling cards and open houses:
From the 18th through the early 20th centuries, people used calling or visiting cards to introduce themselves, further a relationship or express social sentiments. The rules for calling cards were complex and interesting. Calling cards were similar to today’s business cards in that they were a tangible reminder of a person and their intentions and background.
Another networking tool was the New Year’s Day open house. These were held by families of all ages, but were also a socially acceptable way for young people to meet potential spouses. These open houses featured refreshments and conversation in small groups. Young men who made the rounds calling on friends and family would first be ushered into a reception room where they would hand the household help their calling card, who would then give it to the host family.
If the hosts agreed to see the visitor, they would be introduced into the main parlor or living room and typically stay just 10 to 15 minutes before moving on to the next open house. But their calling card, with its personal information plus any special message for the young woman, would remain behind as an invitation to connect with the young man again in the near future.
With the proliferation of the telephone and fancy New Year’s Eve parties, calling cards and the practice of New Year’s Day calling faded. However, association professionals might consider reviving parts of these two practices:
- Spruce up your association’s calling card. How do you present your association to people with whom you want to connect? Most professionals have business cards, and even if you believe paper business cards are so 20th century, you probably still have a standard way of passing along your info to a new connection: a Facebook friend or LinkedIn request, following someone on Twitter, exchanging contact information via Bump, etc.
However you exchange your information, it has a certain look to it: the design on your paper card, the photos you choose for your online profile, the certifications you choose to include next to your name. What do your association’s “calling cards” — your website, your social profiles, your online communities, your printed materials — say? Old-fashioned calling cards came in a variety of shapes and colors. Make sure your association’s “cards” contain the design elements and content that will put your association in the mental space you want it to occupy with your audiences.
- Don’t be bashful about handing out your calling card! If the young men of the 1800s wanted their pick of potential ladies, they had to take a deep breath, put on their big boy pants and get out there. Calling card protocol allowed the recipient to decline a face-to-face meeting after reviewing a card, so putting one’s name out there didn’t always get the desired result. However, not handing out your card always resulted in no meeting.
Association members should be ready to network on behalf of themselves, their business or their association at any time. Some people practice their elevator speech. Others are never without a business card, a pamphlet or an invitation to connect online profiles. Again, however you prefer to exchange information, get out there.
- Hold an open house. Most people like parties. Why not throw a simple open house and invite all members and professional contacts to reconnect for 2017? One of the alumni groups I belong to hosts a “kickoff party” at a bar or restaurant every January, leaving enough time between the winter holidays for us to recover but early enough in the year that we all leave the party inspired to strengthen friendships and build new ones in the coming 12 months.
21st Century Open Houses for Associations:
If an open house isn’t practical for you, consider deploying one of the many ways we have to gather large groups of people in the 21st century:
- Hold a webinar that introduces newcomers to your association or business. There are several platforms that allow you to do this for free or for a nominal fee that includes tech support before, during and after your webinar.
- Host a Twitter chat about your offerings, or about a tangentially related topic that others could benefit. The weekly #AssnChat and #EventProfs chats are two great examples of a casual, free gathering that connect people from a wide variety of backgrounds, locations and associations.
- Start (or revive) an online community. Again, there are many platforms your association could choose from. Online communities allow people to engage in deep, ongoing discussions about topics important to them from almost any location, background and knowledge starting point.
Other suggestions for carrying on the spirit of an open house in 2017:
- Call your members, sponsors, and other stakeholders. Take a master phone list, divide it among your staff and give everyone a week or so to place a 5-minute call to everyone on their list. Ask how their holidays went, what they’re most looking forward to in 2017 and what your association can do to make the coming year better. Email and texting are so common now that a phone call from someone truly interested in the other person is a gift.
- Send “jumbo calling cards” — or postcards, via snail mail. Similar to a phone call, postcards in the mail have swung from a nuisance (when everyone sent them) to a novelty (when hardly anyone sends them). Wish the recipient a happy new year, tell them you’re interested in helping them make 2017 a good one and remind them how to get in touch with you.
- Drop in with coffee or a small token of appreciation. When my neighbor worked on Wall Street in the 1970s and 80s, he’d often take a break by going downstairs to the coffee shop and bringing back a tray of assorted coffees, then walk around his office handing them out to anyone who needed an energy boost. He made more office friends and smoothed over more strained professional relationships by regularly showing kindness this way. Frank Rudd, CAE, CMP, president and CEO of the Florida Society of Association Executives, calls and delivers welcome packages to all new members throughout the year. The reaction he most often gets is, “Whoa, this guy really cares!” Show up, and your contacts will see you really care, too.
What we call “networking” in the 21st century has actually been around for a long time, and it doesn’t have to be complex or intimidating. If you try one of these tactics this year, drop us a note in the comments and tell us how it went!