Bring it Online! – Utilize and Maximize Online Professional Networks:
The stronger the relationships and the wider your networking circle, the more opportunities present themselves, both professionally and socially. The power of personal networking is immense especially these days. More and more of our clients meet their partners, find jobs, and sometimes build businesses solely through networking.
The power of online networking is even greater in many ways because these things (and more) occur in exponentially greater volume and at a faster rate in online social and professional networks. In essence, online networking sites bring people with similar interests together quickly and take the relationships and/or experience you’ve built in the real world and plug you into an ever-growing tree that can connect you to an innumerable amount of people on a regular basis. As such, professional online networking has become a vital activity for those interested in building and maintaining a rich and “current” professional network today. The idea is to jump into the game if you’re not in it, manage your use so you don’t burnout, keep an eye out for opportunities, and utilize your networks in ways that help you build your relationships in meaningful ways.
I wrote this article to help many of you who are new to this world to dive in and get your feet wet.
Where to Begin:
If you haven’t started networking online start by speaking with colleagues, friends, and family members about what sites they’re using, how they like the site(s) they’re using, and how they utilize the site(s). There’s information on the web, but there is a ton of it and it can be difficult to weed through. Articles on the web describing and/or ranking social and professional online networks can be helpful as can the list of networks within places like Wikipedia. And, if you’re a member of a professional organization, find out what the professional networks are that target people in your field or desired field. There’s a plethora of sites out there, so zero in on the ones that you hear good things about, that your friends and colleagues are using (that make sense for you and your career), and that are amongst the most popular in general and for your particular niche/occupation (Google can help direct you to the most popular if you’re not sure).
Reluctance about networking online sometimes comes from a fear that these sites will eat up your energy and time. But, the frequency with which you use online networking is up to you. If you have a limited amount of time to spend on networking sites, spend a time sinking into one site before actively participating in/joining another (This will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed at first). Also, keep in mind that if you’ve joined a highly active site like Facebook or Linkedin, there may be a flurry of activity and invitations at the beginning which will calm down over time.
Post Complete & Updated Occupational Information:
Review your occupational posts with the same care you’d use posting to a job board. Make sure you’re the information you post is complete, updated and polished.
Also, you may consider some sites like Facebook as strictly social networking sites, but the line between social and professional networking blurs online as it does with traditional networking. Posting your business title and/or occupation/website, is another way to invite possibilities. It will no doubt spark interest and inquires from at least some as they read your profile. By the same token, you may uncover a professional common thread you weren’t aware if you take the time to read occupational information posted by others. If you do, seize the opportunity to communicate since authentic connection/communication is the cornerstone of building relationships.
ONCE YOU’VE STARTED:
Stop and make an authentic connection: Networking is about making positive, authentic connections with people and building upon those connections over time. One distinct way online networking is different than face-to-face networking is that people will sometimes enter into your network without any direct communication between the two of you. If you don’t stop to connect, though, then a potential opportunity for authentic communication has passed. So, rather than simply accept a request from a long-lost classmate, for instance, take the time to ask them about themselves as soon as they enter your network: “How are they? What are they doing these days?” etc. We’re all moving fast and spending too much time on social networking sites can zap our energy, but if you take the time to welcome a person in this way, you’ll renew your relationship in a more authentic, positive, and substantial way. And, even if you don’t actively communicate with this person, each of you will feel more comfortable and open to connecting six months down the road should you want to connect for a professional networking reason. And, aside from making an authentic reconnection with someone you genuinely liked, on a professional networking level, keep in mind that you’re more likely to make significant new professional connections through people that aren’t in your immediate circles. Moreover, if you left a positive impression on someone 20 years ago, it’s likely that impression still resonates. Be yourself, be professional: If you’re mixing “business and personal” on a site, remember that your networks are likely to have individuals with diverse religious and political beliefs as well as different senses of humor. So, while you should be yourself, keeping your posted information thoughtfully crafted, and your communication neutral and respectful will keep your appearance online professional.
Work It!: Once you’re in a network, take the time to stay active in it, even if it’s for one or two hours a week (If you’re looking for a job, more active participation is encouraged). Engage in and continue “conversations” actively within your network since in addition to authentic connections, familiarity and frequency of interactions helps you build relationships. In addition, make a list of colleagues, former bosses, and the like that you’ve lost touch with, and if it’s appropriate for you to reconnect with them through your network, invite them in or send a nice virtual note to them touching base. These gestures can spark conversation and reignite professional relationships. Lastly, to maximize the effectiveness of sites like Linkedin, take the time to read a tutorial – available for the asking on the web.
Take the leap out of the cyber world: Attempt to build relationships on a face-to-face level when appropriate. Even if it’s just meeting and old colleague you like for coffee to catch up, personal meetings are almost always great relationship strengtheners. Similarly, if you notice that a friend of yours is in a network with someone you’d like to meet professionally, inquire if your friend would be willing to set up an introduction or if you could use their name when you introduced yourself (via phone or email is often more appropriate unless the site’s invites “stranger introductions” – each site has a unique set of norms).