It’s gotten to the point where social networking is pretty much a necessity if you want to advance in your career. “It’s not what you know, but who you know” has never rang more true than it does today. One friend request could be the difference between landing that dream job or staying stuck for years.
But there’s a right way to approach networking and a wrong way. Just because it now happens on the internet doesn’t mean standards and rules no longer apply. Stick to the following dos and don’ts to increase your chances of success.
1. Do Learn the Quirks of Each Platform
In 2016, LinkedIn was the most important social network for professionals. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, LinkedIn is designed for professionals. But don’t get it twisted: LinkedIn shouldn’t be the only platform you use. Every major platform has something to offer.
- LinkedIn is akin to an online résumé. It’s great for showing off your work history, your skills, and your existing professional contacts. It’s also a great way to find new contacts through your existing ones.
- Facebook is more casual than LinkedIn, but you can use it to connect with old classmates and former coworkers. Through them, you may be able to establish new professional contacts.
- Twitter is the most casual of all. You can send messages to anyone at any time, making it easy to strike up conversations with strangers without needing an introduction first.
What’s most important is that you learn the norms of each platform. On Twitter, it’s acceptable to butt into any tweet chain and share your thoughts. Friend requests to strangers may go ignored on Facebook while users on LinkedIn may be more willing to hear you out. It’s up to you to learn the “rules” of each platform so you don’t come off as clueless.
2. Don’t Skimp on Your Profiles
This tip can be easily misunderstood so be careful.
On the one hand, avoid sharing too many personal details. At the very least, never share your home address and phone numbers for the public to see. These can be abused in ways that could turn you into a victim of harassment.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to share professional details. The more clarity you can provide regarding work experience, past projects, current skills, and personal interests, the more appealing you will be as a new contact. And don’t forget to set up a great profile picture!
3. Do Separate Personal and Professional
For most people, it’s a good idea to keep separate social media accounts meant specifically for networking. This minimizes your risk of contaminating your professional image with personal “off-duty” posts.
One possible exception is if you’re a celebrity and your name is the brand. Examples include Seth Godin, James Clear, Tim Ferriss, Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, and even Perez Hilton. Unless people are interested in you instead of what you can do, separation is for the best.
4. Don’t Be Shy or Reserved
Networking is all about reaching out. You have to be the driving force if you want to connect with others and expand your circle. It’s inconvenient and even a bit scary, I know, but the simple fact is that people won’t come to you. You have to go to them.
So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Most professionals on social media are there because they also want to expand their reach. Some of them will ignore you, and that’s okay. The takeaway is that reaching out and being ignored is better than not doing anything and hoping the connections come. Networking just doesn’t work that way.
5. Do Make a Great First Impression
Whatever you do, don’t take the “shotgun approach” and spam dozens of people with canned emails or friend request messages. I personally hate when this happens to me and it’s the quickest way to be ignored.
Research potential contacts before reaching out to them. Find a common interest. Show them why you’re different from everyone else. But don’t say too much and don’t come on too strong. Get right to the point, keep it brief, and be respectful. The best first impression is memorable but not obnoxious.
6. Don’t Demand or Expect a Response
Again, it’s normal for friend requests and emails to go ignored. Think about it: you can hand out a hundred business cards but still get no calls, right? It’s no different here. Maybe your first impression was weak. Or maybe the recipient is swamped with work or life.
If you don’t hear back, you should probably move on. “Lost” or “forgotten” emails and requests are rarer than you think. Chances are, it was ignored — and sending a follow-up probably won’t accomplish much. You can try, but if that’s also ignored, then take the hint and don’t push it.
7. Do Build Relationships, Not Contacts
One thing I don’t like about professional networking is that you can start to see others as objects instead of people. It’s too easy to look at somebody as an opportunity or stepping stone. The more contacts you amass, the easier it becomes.
People are more perceptive than you think. If you approach someone as “just another contact,” they can sense it and will respond accordingly. And if you reach out to someone and show interest in developing a relationship, they can sense that too. Guess which one they’d prefer.
8. Don’t Be a Leech
Professional networking has always been, and will always be, a two-way street. It’s not just about what’s in it for you. In order to develop successful contacts and relationships, both sides need to offer value to the other.
The trick is, “value” can be anything. It could be your skills, personality, ability to hold an entertaining conversation, or even your existing contacts. Take some time to think about what you bring to the table. What would make someone else want you as a professional contact?
And not only that, but consider helping others for no other reason than to help. Social media karma is real. Selflessness can go a long way towards building new relationships, and you’d be surprised by how many doors it can open.
9. Do Ask for Preferred Forms of Contact
If you’ve done all of the above and successfully established a conversation with someone, ask them how they would prefer to continue the relationship.
Common modes of communication include email, Facebook, and probably a mobile chat app like WhatsApp or Skype. But you never know! They might prefer tweets only, or LinkedIn messages, or perhaps they’ll invite you to a private Slack community that they check into every day.
10. Don’t Give Up
Professional networking is a marathon. It’s true that you can expand your circle more quickly now than ever before, but we’re talking the difference between years and decades. Networking takes time and persistence.
This doesn’t mean you should pester the same person over and over. Nothing good will come of that — if they aren’t receptive, move on. By persistence, I mean that one person’s rejection doesn’t mean everyone will reject you.
Mismatches happen for all kinds of reasons. You just have to take them in stride and keep putting yourself out there. One by one, your professional network will grow, and so will your relationships and opportunities.
How Do You Network on Social Media?
Professional networking on social media can feel very awkward at first. But if you follow the pieces of advice above, you’ll find that it’s not that bad — in fact, it can actually be a lot of fun! And it can move your forward in your career. And in the interest of helping out other readers, we’d love to hear about your professional network adventures on social media.
What networking tactics do you use on social media? Which one have shown success and which one have fallen flat? Let us know in a comment below!
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