What to do with all the business cards from your last conference

Business travel should be about relationship building, but so often the stress of dealing with logistics and the anxiety of meeting a whole whack of new people keep it from being an effective way to connect, especially at conferences. Using social tools can focus your on-the-road time on the people you really want to get to know.


This is my seven-step strategy for using social media to turn conference introductions into ongoing connections:

Step 1: Get an app

Before the conference, install a business-card-processing app on your smartphone. If you’re an Evernote user, your best bet is to use Evernote on your phone; when you use Evernote to snap a “camera” note, you’ll have the option to select “business card,” which means Evernote can create a contact note from the card and offer you the option of connecting via LinkedIn.

Other options include WorldCard (iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile) or FullContact Card Reader (iOS and Android). What you want is an app that can scan business cards with a camera, convert the card to contact information, and offer you social network connection options.

Step 2: Don’t wait to connect

If you meet someone and hit it off, connect right away. If you’ve made a new pal and your pal is on Twitter, send your pal a tweet from your smartphone right then and there, before you lose one another’s business cards or Twitter handles.

I like to take a snapshot of me and my new pal and tweet it to him or her along with the hashtag #nicetomeetyou. That way I can see all my new pals in one place. This is a great way to keep track of and in touch with new contacts without feeling as if you need to add them all to LinkedIn.

Step 3: For the record

At the end of each day (or failing that, the end of the conference), take the stack of business cards you’ve accumulated and lay them out on a table. Take a photograph of the entire collection. Then pull out all the cards for people with whom you hope to have further contact. Make this your “keeper” pile. Throw out the rest of the cards.

If you’re an Evernote user, add the snapshot of that business card pile to Evernote with the title “met at Conference X.”

Now if you’re ever wondering where you met someone, an Evernote search will bring up a snapshot of his or her business card in context. (Depending on how many cards you collect, you may need to take several photos so the resolution is good enough to make the card text readable.)

Step 4: Keeper file

Use your smartphone’s business card scanning app to capture all the cards in your keeper pile. Open the app and view the contact card for each person in your keeper pile.

Step 5: LinkedIn

Use your business card app’s social networking function to send each person a LinkedIn connection invitation. If anyone is also a Twitter user, click the Twitter handle on that person’s profile so that you can view and follow him on Twitter.

If you want to establish a LinkedIn connection with someone senior or well known, consider writing a personal connection request reminding him or her that you enjoyed meeting at Conference X and would like to stay in touch. You can’t do that from within Evernote’s card scanner, so you’ll need to log into LinkedIn to send that personal request.

Step 6: Make the contact

If there are people in your keeper pile that you’d like to follow up with within the next month or so, send a personal note to their email address saying how much you enjoyed meeting with them and (if appropriate) suggesting when or how you’ll follow up. You may even want to suggest setting up a next meeting or call. These messages are a good use of your time on the flight home: just queue them up and hit send when you land.

Step 7: For the record

About a week after the conference (when people have had a chance to accept your LinkedIn invitations), go to your connections page (under contacts/connections in the LinkedIn menu) and click on “new connections” (under “recent activity”).

Check the box next to all the people you met at that conference and tag them with the name and year of the conference (for your future reference). Refer to your keeper pile of physical cards if you need to check whether someone is a conference-related contact.

Author: Alexandra Samuel is a speaker, researcher and writer who works with the world’s leading companies to understand their online customers and craft data-driven reports like Sharing is the New Buying. The author of Work Smarter with Social Media, Alex holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University.