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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Tannette Johnson-Elie column: New social networking system is highly informal
[April 01, 2009]

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Tannette Johnson-Elie column: New social networking system is highly informal

Apr 01, 2009 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- WHAT ONCE PASSED FOR NETWORKING -- exchanging business cards in tony restaurants -- is becoming decidedly uncool.

Young creative types are looking for alternatives to the traditional networking model as a way to connect, exchange ideas and prospect for jobs.

"When everyone's all businesslike, people feel like they have to act a certain way. They try to be someone they're not," says Jason Fleck, 23, a social media strategist for Avicom Marketing Communications in Milwaukee.

Now, young professionals like Fleck think they've discovered the answer.

It's an informal gathering called Likemind, and it caters to tech-savvy, young professionals in marketing, advertising, media and design -- the YouTube generation -- who want a casual venue where they can exchange ideas and connect with like-minded individuals, of course.

Likemind bills itself as the un-networking event. It's a loosely structured, no-frills gathering minus the fees and the typical business association agenda. Launched in 2006 by an Internet marketer in New York, it has grown rapidly since 2008. Today, Likemind is in 55 cities around the world, from Shanghai to Mumbai.

Milwaukee got on board two weeks ago. At a recent event, about 30 participants discussed business, technology, art and culture over coffee and tea.

A professional mix Unlike other meet-ups, Likemind isn't limited to industry-specific groups. It's open to people from different fields.

Jennifer Stearns, 37, a marketing sales manager for TDS Metrocom in Milwaukee, thinks Likemind is a good way to meet other technology professionals in town.

"What's attractive about this is it was two hours of casual conversation, without an agenda, without a speaker," Stearns said. "I really got to have conversations with a lot of people in the community who are doing unique and creative things." Likemind fulfills the need for in-person interaction for today's young professionals who no longer work in the traditional 9-to-5 job setting, says Jeff Larche, who is organizing Milwaukee's Likemind gatherings with Milwaukee attorney Chris Moander.

"People's jobs are being redefined. There aren't many opportunities for people of varying roles and from various types of business to have these kinds of meetings," says Larche, who owns a digital marketing consultancy called Digital Solid. "The new generation doesn't want to conduct business as their parents did." Likemind represents a cultural shift from traditional business networking to a new way of conducting business without the pressure of the hard-sell, says Robert Shuter, chairman of the Department of Communications Studies at Marquette University, whose expertise is in diversity and interpersonal communication.

"The old cultural norm of you dress up, you wear a tie or you wear a dress is not gone, but it's changing rapidly," Shuter says. "Hence no pitch, hence no cards. But maybe you exchange an e-mail address. You've got to know how to text.

"Those are all countercultural norms that are part and parcel of the way people meet, greet and do business." Craving personal contact The biggest shift in the way business is conducted today can be seen in the rapid growth of online social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

But even as online social networking gains in popularity, entrepreneurs like Barbara Handley hunger for real-life connections and authentic relationships.

Handley, 40, and her husband, own a Web design and development business called Quintessential Mischief LLC.

"It's a really cool thing when people get together and start talking," said Handley, who learned about Likemind on Twitter. "There's not a lot of opportunity to bring people of different fields together. I see this as a way to encourage entrepreneurs and to give people opportunities to develop new ventures together." Loosely structured events such as Likemind will be critical to solving the city's brain-drain, said Steve Glynn, president of Spreenkler, a Milwaukee networking group of mostly marketing and technology professionals and entrepreneurs.

"If you want to get to the creatives, they don't want stuffy, they don't want suits. They just want to come and hang out," he says. "People want no barriers to coming out and learning." In a city searching for fresh ideas, new business and young leaders, we need more such ways to bring like minds together.

Tannette Johnson-Elie writes about how small businesses and start-ups are using networking and business associations to tap the expertise needed to grow. She can be reached at (414) 223-5172 or by e-mail at

To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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