It’s fun. It’s new. It’s exhausting. It’s challenging. It’s gratifying. It’s networking! Not to be confused by social media networking, which according to the Pew Research Center, now plays a significant role in nearly two-thirds of American adults’ lives. (Less surprisingly, it is reported that 90% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are active on social media.) No, this blog is about in-person professional networking and the power of personal connection in a world dominated by digital technology.

Mike Muhney, author, speaker, and entrepreneur, commented via Forbes that young people particularly have a conception that making updates on social media is networking. He goes on to explain this is not the case. Developing real relationships requires individual conversations and face time. Both are critical.

In the words of Dr. Ivan Misner, “networking is not about hunting, it’s about farming. It’s about cultivating relationships.” And relationship building isn’t about likes, upvotes or retweets. It’s about quality interactions you have and rapport you build with real live people, and it has the potential to be extremely rewarding in many ways.

4 Tips:  Making Networking Work by Connecting

So, the next time you consider leaving the social scene behind in favor of making a personal, professional connection, here are 4 tips to help make networking work for you.

1 – Relationships are mutual.

So often it is assumed that networking relationships are made for some personal gain – a referral? a promotion? a business sale? While that is an associated perk sometimes, it shouldn’t be the primary goal in networking. Get to know someone because you want to, because you’re curious.  Look through a lens of giving rather than receiving.

While it’s rewarding to learn from others and possibly get a referral along the way, who knows what you may be able to give that could change a life for the better.

2 – Know your surroundings.

The social nature of networking luncheons and programs often makes it easy to forget who is in the room. People are laughing and joking and all around having a great time. Occasionally, cocktails make their way into the mix too to spice things up. While it’s all too inviting to chime in and have a ball, do yourself a favor and connect but do not get too comfortable. Remember, there’s a difference between meeting a potential BFF and a professional connection.

The networking world is huge but so small – you never know who’s watching. Take the proactive approach and always ensure you’re putting the best version of yourself out there for people to see.

3 – Follow up and keep it up.

Whether you initiated it or received an invite to connect with someone personally, it’s so important to follow up. Keeping with the theme of humanity – ditch the email and send a handwritten note. Bonus points if you can get it to them within a day or two of the meeting. The prompt time and effort are sure to be noticed.

Equally, as you continue to nurture that relationship, don’t wait for them to come to you to invest. You can make little deposits all the time – whether by checking in to see how the person is doing, asking them out for lunch, or even sending a cool article that they might be interested in. A little bit of effort goes a long way.

4 – Don’t wait to network.

 A colleague of mine said this to me some time ago, and now I share it with you. It may very well be my most prized nugget on this list: do not wait until you need it to start networking. Seems simple enough, right? Surprisingly, not so much. By waiting until you need it, the act of trying to build a professional relationship can feel pressured and insincere. Who wants to be that guy – the one who calls you only when he needs a job or a referral?

Get ahead of the game and invest in what really matters – people – because when you do need it, that network of people will come to you.

There are of course many keys to the networking kingdom but let us never underestimate the simple yet profound impact that human connection and personal relationships can have on us both personally and professionally.