I'm not a born networker. I go to a lot of events and conferences, but I'm not great at walking up to strangers, unless I have a specific goal in mind. Even when I do go home with a fistful of business cards, there's a good chance they'll wind up crammed in the back of a drawer. Fortunately, there are plenty of mobile apps designed to make networking easier. Could technology help me become a better glad-hander? To find out, I gave a few of the apps a whirl at a recent event for teleworkers near Fargo, North Dakota.
Right off the bat, I felt more confident approaching people, knowing I had a built-in icebreaker. Instead of exchanging business cards with other attendees, I plugged their e-mail addresses into Hashable, a free app for iPhones and Android phones. Using the app on my iPhone, I e-mailed a virtual business card to my new acquaintances. Because they did not have Hashable accounts, they clicked on a link in the e-mail and registered online, using their laptops or smartphone browsers. Once they did, their information, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and social media details, appeared in my Hashable address book. Hashable also lets you keep track of meetings and events, using hash tags, and create an "inner circle" of contacts to keep tabs on. I found that last feature intrusive.
Normally, during presentations, I would have kept to myself, listening to the speakers and checking my e-mail. This time, I used GroupMe, a free app that works on most phones, to create a private text-message group and chat with my conference buddies about the presentations. I also tried to meet other attendees using WhosHere, a free iPhone app that lets you text people in your vicinity, but the only person nearby with the app was a teenager in Fargo. I took a pass.
One of my goals was to organize a get-together at the end of the day. I used Hurricane Party, a free iPhone app that helped me search for a nearby coffeehouse and create an invitation with the location, date, and time. I had to type in everyone's mobile numbers, because they weren't in my phone's main Contacts folder. Then, the app sent out a text with a link to the invite. Each time someone responded, the app texted me and updated my RSVP list.
Out of the dozen people I invited for coffee, only two showed up. Still, I headed home a fan of networking apps, which had emboldened me to go outside my comfort zone. Above all, I was amazed by the amount of contact information I had collected, information that was more detailed and more immediately usable than any stack of business cards could have been.