Last week, I was lucky enough to attend New York Comic Con (NYCC) with a press pass. During the event, I observed a great deal of networking habits and became very aware of my own strengths and weaknesses.
I've attended other events like New York Comic Con as press, fan, panelist and vendor/exhibitor, and having multiple perspectives on the tensions and opportunities of networking at a large event has helped me adapt in many networking situations.
Most of the networking lessons I learned at this year's NYCC will easily translate to digital marketing events that I attend on behalf of SEMrush.
Networking Conversations: How to Set Yourself Up for Success
What happened at NYCC: Initiating a conversation is often the most difficult part of networking, especially at a large event like NYCC or an extensive digital marketing event. While I'm a fan of Marvel, "Firefly" and "Star Trek," maybe the person I want to speak with is more into anime, which I know nothing about.
However, we're all there to geek out over fandoms we love, and I was able to navigate conversations despite differences because I could relate to everyone's overall enthusiasm.
How this will help me at digital marketing events: Similarly, I'm all about content in digital marketing, but meet people with other specializations. While there are differences, it's important to realize that everyone at the event is hopefully passionate and enthusiastic about its overall topic – and I have that in common with them.
Offer the Right Introduction
What happened at NYCC: At the convention, many people offered some solid introductions, but they set us up for some awkward conversations. "I'm Jane" or "I'm Jane and I write comics." While that's friendly and helpful, it doesn't tell me much about Jane's interests, or in this case, her art style.
I caught myself making this mistake, too. Instead of "I'm Tara and I'm a blogger covering the con," I learned to say, "I'm Tara, and I really appreciate your art style. I run a website about women in geek culture. May I follow up with you for an interview? I'd love to feature you on the site."
An indication of why I approached the person really helped, even if I just started a conversation because we were standing in line together.
Before I go to the events, I think about what I stand to offer and gain from people who are different than me. After all, the idea is to find people with other specialties and skill sets to educate my readers – and maybe they'll invite me to blog on my own area of expertise in exchange.
Pull Yourself Away from the Phone
What happened at NYCC: Confession: when I feel socially awkward or unproductive and I'm not already chatting with someone, I have a tendency to look at my phone, even knowing that it makes me seem unapproachable. It's a crutch, and at NYCC, I used the excuse of covering the event as press to scroll through Facebook.
This habit is definitely something I had in common with many vendors and exhibitors at the convention. Business gets done at NYCC, and I generally don't expect email replies from anyone attending while the event is still happening.
If people know you're at the con, they shouldn't expect an immediate follow-up unless you have made a huge announcement or released a new product. Especially if you're looking for work or inspiration that generally affects your work, few things are as important as the person in front of you.
By the last day of the convention, I was all about business and actively navigating the show floor and artist alley to connect with very specific people on my list.
How this will help me at digital marketing events: At my next event, I'll pick up where I left off, having more specific goals in mind.
What happened at NYCC: After panels at NYCC, many fans (and even members of the press) were reticent about approaching well-known panelists. For me, this usually isn't a problem. After all, I've just listened to an entire panel: I know what the speakers are all about and have had time to think about how we could help each other and why I could be of value to them.
However, I didn't have much of a strategy beyond being organized enough to live tweet panelists and connect with them online.
By Sunday of the convention, I'd amended my preparatory documents to include some facts about the panelists and their work. Putting more time into the research helped me confidently make the connections I needed.
How this will help me at digital marketing events: Every event has a different tone, but in addition to knowing as much as possible about the brand I represent, I should know more about the other exhibitors at the events and exactly who I'd like to meet with there.
What happened at NYCC: Women now make up 53% of comic book buyers and this is a rapid change. Even the most progressive major comic book publisher is scrambling to keep up with the progress of women (and female characters) represented in independent comic books and its related scene. And some women and men still haven't embraced this fact, meaning I still look like an oddity when I speak on geek culture issues in some settings or at less inclusive conventions.
However, the age of the ladygeek is here and I'm owning it as part of my personal brand, even beyond the 'geek scene' because, let's face it, geek is cool now.
Armed with the valuable statistic about female comic book buyers, I was prepared for the occasional challenges I received about being the only lady in the crowd. Thankfully, this happens less frequently now – but it's still helpful to know facts that empower and uplift other women in this space.
How it will help me at digital marketing events: By expressing a bit about myself and the creativity I'm permitted to enjoy in my position at SEMrush, I provide an accurate representation of the brand. I do not feel stifled by the brand, but feel like I make it stronger with my new ideas and experiences.
According to Trade Show News Network (TSNN), "92% of trade show attendees say they are looking for new products." If someone can connect with me because of my stance on a content marketing strategy or my enthusiasm for all things nerd, it's a win for my brand and I'm happy to leverage it.
How do your hobbies help you succeed in digital marketing? Please let me know in the comments or let me know all about your experience at New York Comic Con.
Did you enjoy this post? If so, you might like to read my post about 6 Digital Marketing Lessons from Thor, My Favorite Superhero.
Tara M. Clapper is Blog Editor at SEMrush and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Tara is a prolific content creator, having written thousands of blog posts, small business websites and other inbound marketing content through the course of her career. Tara enjoys blogging about SEO copywriting, content management, corporate culture, personal branding, networking and LinkedIn. She has over a decade of experience in digital publishing. Connect with her on Twitter @TaraMClapper.