With 426 million users on LinkedIn alone, social networking platforms are an increasingly popular career tool. They present an opportunity to connect with peers, potential employers, new opportunities and clients on a global level. The options are endless so let’s make a start.
Before you jump in at the deep end ask yourself a few key questions:
- What do I want to achieve?
- Who do I want to meet? (be strategic, this isn’t a random chat)
- Why am I networking?
- How will I follow up? (possibly the most important question of all)
Put your best foot forward
Your online profile is your representation of who you are and what you do. It’s your cyber calling card, often the first impression that others, including potential employers and clients, have of you. But how accurate is it and what are you really conveying?
Make sure you have a succinct introduction ready. Four of five sentences that explain who you are and what you do. Scripting your introduction in advance will give you something polished to introduce yourself. A few simple sentences will provide you with an essential 60-second pitch, freeing up your headspace to engage on a deeper level.
- What are you trying to project?
- What are you trying to achieve?
- Who you are
- What you do Cherry pick your key achievements and skills – not your entire history, chapter and verse
A potential network will make an assessment of who you are based on what you’ve told them and how you’ve said it. Consider the photograph you choose, the language you use, how you describe yourself and what you do. Keep it positive and authentic. The next time someone skims over your profile, the chances are they’ll have a pretty good idea of the person behind it….and whether or not they want to connect with you. Now you’ve designed your own introduction, how are you going to find out about others?
Who are the influencers in your field? Create a hit list and start to follow them. Read what they write, listen to what they say and then comment. Take the temperature of online conversations for a week or two. See what others are saying, watch how they contribute and then plan your next step.
Investigate who your influencers are connected to and connect with them. Known as ‘social proof’ this moves you one step closer to those you are seeking to network with, adding to your credibility. Rather than ‘stepping stones’ these connections are also a valuable part of your network. Get to know them. Help them. Virtual networking means that you can access and connect with influencers in your field in a way that wouldn’t be possible in person so take advantage of it. Join in the conversation!
The long game: be helpful
If your opening line is asking for something, the relationship is going to be fairly short-lived. Just like in the real world asking for something before you’ve established a relationship is a huge no and dare we say it, a tad presumptuous.
Think of networking online as an opportunity to help others rather than wondering what you can get out of it. The right attitude will pay dividends. Become a connector, introduce people, offer to help someone else with your expertise or experience. Sending links to articles you’ve seen or offering advice to others. Share research articles or blogs and copy the authors in. What goes around comes around and by helping others you’re playing the long game, building relationships and your reputation online. Hit and run with a request for help straight away and you’ll damage your brand.
Now you’ve identified your influencers what are you going to ask them? Be strategic and consider what your goals are before you begin.
- Do you want to know about:
- Possible career paths
- Areas of expertise
- Future developments
- Global events in your profession
- New research
Remember to keep your questions open rather than closed allowing the conversation to flow. It sounds obvious but often we’re so busy trying to impress that we forget to listen. You should be aiming for a speaking/listening ratio of roughly 70% listening time. Be authentic. Be interested.
It’s one of the most crucial steps in virtual networking and at the same time one of the most neglected. You’ve done the legwork, made your connection, now what next? This is where the real relationship begins. Just like with an offline friendship, maintain and nurture your new connection by:
- Remembering to send birthday cards
- Introducing your connection/their work to others
- Sending articles or books that you know they’ll be interested in
- A simple email with ‘Saw this and thought of you….’
- Providing testimonials or reviews of their work
- Be helpful. Ask yourself what you can do for your network and the rest will follow.