Not long ago, networking was pretty straightforward. It simply involved navigating a crowded room while scoping out the best people to talk to, and preparing to strike up a meaningful conversation. Just as we (finally) mastered the art of handing out our business cards however, a completely new method of making connections has taken over: online networking.
With social media platforms a staple in today’s society and the emergence of professional social networks like LinkedIn, Bumble Bizz and Meetup, the ability to build digital relationships has never been more important. Naturally, there’s overlap between in-person and online networking, but just like other forms of digital communication, there are plenty of opportunities to breech rules of professional etiquette. Not to mention, we often underestimate how difficult it can be to stand out amongst a sea of young professionals online.
Just like any skill, online networking takes a bit of practice in order to conquer it like a pro. When approached effectively, online networking is a great platform for building a professional profile, growing your digital network and even landing your dream job. Here are our five tips for navigating the world of online networking.
- Hone Your Professional Profile
Before you even think about reaching out to other industry professionals, make sure you take the time to strategically craft your profile. There are a number of social networks to choose from, so be selective. A couple well-developed social profiles equipped with experiences and interests speak volumes over dozens of profiles with just a photo slapped onto the page. Consider what networks others in your age group, industry, or job title are using. If you’re a beginner to online networking, we recommend starting with a LinkedIn profile.
When curating the perfect material for your professional profile, be mindful in what you choose to post. As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t include anything you wouldn’t want a would-be boss to see. Include job histories and professional interests, but don’t be afraid to share pieces of information about your hobbies or social interests (within reason). Personalized factoids are a great way for others to find similarities and make connections.
- Establish a Well-Rounded Network
Everyone needs a well-rounded network, and you achieve this by networking with people in and out of your industry. You never know who someone else knows and who they can refer you or your services to. Networking is a major learning experience because it allows you to gather new information and insight from other industry professionals. Someone with a totally different career path may be able to offer you a completely different perspective than those who mirror your own job history.
- Make Communication Personal
According to Ori Manor, co-founder and CMO at Unomy, “One of the biggest mistakes professionals make is reaching out sans social context. Popping out of nowhere can immediately trigger a negative response. Instead, find and include personal context that elevates trust and gets you the right kind of attention.”
Remember those personal tidbits we recommended to share on your profile? Now’s the time to use them to your benefit. Many people overlook a shared education, social causes or hobbies, but these can all be a great way to introduce yourself online.
When composing your initial message, always be sure to use the word “you” in the first sentence. This simple tweak forces the tone of the message to about them, and it’s sure to peak their interest.
- Prepare for Face-to-Face Interactions
Just because your network is developed online doesn’t mean relationships stay there. Though social networking is a great way to kick start a professional connection, the most long-lasting and beneficial relationships require at least a little face time. Grabbing a quick coffee before the start of the workday or a mid-afternoon meetup are effective and informal ways to solidify a contact.
Career coach Lynn Berger recommends that you develop a brief, prepared introduction before meeting your contact face-to-face. “This way,” she says, “the individual does not fumble around and miss the opportunity to make a good impression.”
- Pay It Forward
Networking is reciprocal, so do unto others as you’d want done to you. If you’re able to help people, they’ll be more likely to remember you and return the favor. It’s as simple as that.
With a little bit of work, online networking can help you make dozens of new connections. Already a social pro? Share your networking tips below!
This post was written by Amanda Peterson. She’s a contributor to Enlightened Digital and software engineer from the one, the only New York City. When she’s not trying to find the best record store in the city, you can find her curling up to watch some Netflix with her Puggle, Hendrix.