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In a couple of months I'll be speaking at a small business conference where I already 'know' many of the attendees, even though I've never actually met them. How is that possible? Because of Twitter.

For all the (deserved) criticism that myself and many others have heaped on Twitter recently, the site still excels as a professional networking tool. And nowhere can you see this more clearly when you begin using the tool to connect with fellow conference-goers. And not just during the event, but before and after, as well.
I really began to appreciate the power of Twitter during this year's SXSW. Everyone was using the site to plan our meetings. In fact at one point, my phone went out on my and I asked everyone on Twitter to please email me if they were trying to reach me. No one emailed, they all sent direct messages via Twitter!
Then in April I attended the first Small Business Marketing Unleashed. Again, Twitter was invaluable as a networking tool during the event, and after. I'll be again speaking at the next SBMU in September, and what I am noticing is that I am already connecting on Twitter with people that have registered to attend. So it's almost like I will know half the attendees from Twitter, before I even arrive! And the same thing is happening with the next Marketing Profs conf in Oct. I'm already connecting with people that are planning on attending the conference.
And it's becoming even easier to connect and network via Twitter thanks to the following sites:
Twellow - Organizes users according to dozens of different careers/topics
TwitterLocal - Helps you find Twitterers in your local area
TwitterPacks - This is similar to Twellow, helps you find Twitter users organized by subject, you can add yourself
Summize - Probably the most reliable general search for Twitter
So despite all its many downtime issues, Twitter is still the best online tool I have found for networking. And if you are planning on attending a conference, it's a wonderful way to connect and network with fellow attendees before, during, and after the event!

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier