Does the idea of networking scare you? Does it bring to mind images of parties and events in which you stand around and talk to strangers while you nervously hold a drink in your hand, secretly looking for the clock to see if it’s time to leave? These kinds of parties are not only nerve-racking, but also time-consuming, expensive and not always fruitful. However, things have improved in the last few years. Today, networking is often done virtually. Although you can’t completely replace real handshakes and small talk around a table, you can grow your network without leaving your home.
In the past, swapping contact information with someone you met at a conference didn’t guarantee that they’d actually do anything with it. As you know, it’s easy to go home from conferences with an overloaded brain. By the time you recover from a conference, you are probably so busy with work that you forget to follow up with the people you met. You might see them at the next conference, but they might not remember you, and there’s probably no chance that you are going to connect before then. With Online networking, you’re always just a click away from a contact. You can make connections with those people once a month instead of once a year.
Are You Online?
If you are a professional and don’t have an Online presence, then how will people find you? If you send in your resume to a company, they will most likely do a search on your name to find out more about you. Don’t you want the search results to show that you are well-connected and an expert in your field? The good news is that you don’t have to be a techie to do this. The following networking suggestions require only an open mind, not a tech background.
Prepare Your Pitch
Before you start networking Online, you need to prepare a few things. Think about a one-sentence description of who you are and what you do. I suggest keeping an “elevator pitch” document in your computer that contains a few self-introductions of different lengths that you can copy and paste into “about me” pages on websites. You should also have an updated version of your resume. Next, you need a digital photo of yourself that you feel comfortable uploading to the Web. The photo should be a headshot that makes you look professional. Finally, think about your purpose for networking. Who do you want to connect with? What are your goals?
Networking is about making connections and engaging in two-way communication, so having a static website is really not necessary unless you run your own business. You don’t need a website to simply grow your network. The best way to network is to join Online networking sites.
As you probably know, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the biggest and most useful social networking sites for professionals doing business in the United States.
Facebook tends to be a place for more personal connections, so you might want to avoid adding professional contacts as “friends” if you tend post photos and comments that are not related to your professional life. However, you can interact with professional contacts on Facebook by creating a community page for a unique topic. For example, I know a real estate agent who created a page especially for people interested in Eichler homes, and of course we have an Ovient page. This is a great way to use Facebook to expand your network, and doing this will keep your private life and professional life separate.
On Twitter, you can find a huge number of professionals from all over the world talking about interesting topics and exchanging ideas. I recommend making a unique Twitter account for your professional communication. You can use this account to post links, communicate with other leaders, and write your brilliant ideas about your industry. If you are new to Twitter, do a search on “how to use Twitter,” and you’ll find advice and videos on how to use this website.
LinkedIn is a business networking site. You need to be on this site if you want business contacts or hiring managers to find you. You can add information about your work history and professional interests, make connections with people you know, write and receive recommendations from colleagues, and most importantly join groups. By joining a group, you can participate in discussions and meet new people in your industry. There are groups for alumni, special interests, and clubs that you belong to off-line. Many of your colleagues are probably on LinkedIn already, so look at the groups they are in. You can find groups by doing keyword searches.
There are many other industry-specific social networking sites that you might want to join. For example, The Educator’s PLN is a networking site for teachers. Do a search to find out if there is one that you should join, or ask your colleagues if they belong to any groups.
Another way to connect with people is to comment on blogs. Writing comments is a great way to connect with authors, researchers, publishers, business leaders, and people in the industries you’d like to work in. Of course, the next step is to create your own blog so that other people can comment on your ideas!
Manage Your Time
At first, you might find yourself spending a lot of time figuring it all out and getting connected. (It can turn into a bit of an addiction!) But you really don’t need to spend all of your time Online. I recommend spending a few hours each month to keep in contact with people, and if you take a leave of absence for a few months, it’s OK. Everyone does. You don’t have to give up your hobbies just because you’ve joined the online world. Set aside time and call it your “professional development” or “ personal marketing” time.
If you’re new to all of this, keep an open mind and be patient with the technology and yourself. Don’t write it off because you don’t understand it. Please feel free to start by commenting on this blog!