Kali Hawlk, a marketing manager in Georgia, landed her first client through that most familiar tactic: networking. Hawlk and her client struck up a casual conversation and, one month later, were working together.
But their initial dialogue involved no handshakes or small talk, no cocktail parties or nametags. The networking was done over Twitter, each exchange a mere 140 characters. And for Hawlk, that digital component was a major relief.
"As someone who identifies as not only introverted, but also extremely shy, social media has been an invaluable tool to help me grow my network," Hawlk tells Fast Company. "Using Twitter... has allowed me to advance professionally much faster—and much farther—than I would have if I was limited to in-person, face-to-face networking events."
For Hawlk and the legions of other introverts who dread those after-hour cocktail parties, Twitter has proved a consummate replacement. A strategic @ mention, or a thoughtful addition to an ongoing conversation, allows the introverted professional to hobnob without the awkwardness. "I've been able to get past that initial stage of connecting with someone that I struggle with so much in person," Hawlk says.
Twitter has also been a boon for Dharmesh Shah, the cofounder and chief technology officer of sales and marketing platform HubSpot. Shah, who identifies as an introvert, has a quarter-million followers on Twitter—and notes it’s here that he works best.
"I can honestly say that just about every type of business value one can get, I've gotten from Twitter," Shah says. "I've recruited employees for HubSpot. I've engaged investors. I've found startups to invest in. I've connected with the media. I've connected with customers. I've been invited for speaking events. You name it, I've had it happen on Twitter."
Fast Company spoke with a passel of introverts like Hawlk and Shah about their Twitter tendencies, and how communicating from afar can make networking exponentially less painful—and more powerful. Their advice:
Be generous with praise. "Flattery gets you everywhere," explains Liza Daly, the Boston-based chief technology officer of a digital media company. Daly’s tactic is to share praise, but indirectly: "Really enjoyed @so-and-so's thoughtful piece on hiring; very relevant in today's job climate," she’ll tweet. "That's more likely to get retweeted, or get followed by the poster since I acknowledged their brilliance without obviously demanding their time or attention," Daly explains.
Craft the perfect missive. On Twitter, introverts might have the advantage, says Katherine Schafler, a New York City-based psychotherapist and introvert. "Many introverts find that writing is more clarifying than speaking," she says. "So being able to write out an introductory email, for example, feels like a more genuine reflection of their genuine self."
Absent on Twitter is the immediacy of in-person mixers that introverts find exhausting. "[Twitter] is an asynchronous medium," Shah says. "Quite simply, that means if I want to respond to something you say on Twitter, I can think about it first. That's super-helpful [and] reduces my stress considerably."
Use Twitter to complement face-to-face networking. Even the craftiest introvert can’t skip every social or symposium. And so Daly marries her Twitter networking to those mandatory in-person happenings. "The combination of Twitter and in-person networking events—like conferences—is extremely powerful for an introvert," she says. "Speakers often put their handles in their slides, and if I enjoyed their talk, I'll say so [on Twitter]."
Let your content speak for you. Shah might be uncomfortable holding court at a cocktail hour, but he’s still a bellwether. And so he’ll share content on Twitter that can jump-start conversations.
Brian Carter, who runs a marketing agency in Charleston, S.C., seconds the tactic: "I have plenty of ideas and opinions I can put into blog posts or videos and then share. When that generates a conversation, I can reply."
Don’t impose. Every networking event has its boor, that attendee who interrupts and commandeers conversations. Don’t be the Twitter equivalent. "As an introvert, the idea of DMing a stranger is horrifying," says Daly, who advises against the private missives. Carter agrees, dismissing most as spam: "I don't look at them closely and I assume others don't, as well," he says.
Besides, a private conversation can leave others excluded—a familiar plight for the introverted.
"I actually try not to DM anyone," Hawlk says. "I like to keep the conversation open and available for others to jump in."