Professional networking has been made exponentially easier with social media. With this free reign comes many opportunities — namely, the chance to connect with people in your industry, impress them with your professionalism, and gather information that can directly help you. It also comes with the risk of doing it all wrong, alienating potential allies and crushing your chances at career development. Here are some guidelines for networking successfully in the realm of social media.
Know Your Platforms
Social media is messy. Across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks, we are connected to a mix people. It’s important to understand the particular platform that you’re using, as well as the type of relationship you have with a person, before attempting to leverage that connection for professional gain.
Each social media platform has a certain reputation. For instance, LinkedIn is generally a business site, while Twitter is more relaxed and often mixes professional and personal content. Respect the way that people use these sites. Adding a professional acquaintance as a friend on Facebook can be invasive, especially if that individual is a traditionalist who uses Facebook purely for personal contact with friends and family. Likewise, asking an old friend for a recommendation on LinkedIn might create awkwardness if the person has no experience with you in a professional capacity.
From LinkedIn connection requests to advice-seeking Facebook messages to 140-character chatter on Twitter, you should customize every communication sent on social networks. It shows that you value your unique connection with the recipient. It’s easy for people to feel used when you send them a generic request or a message that’s clearly copy-and-pasted to dozens of others.
For existing connections, express an understanding and appreciation for the relationship. When you reach out for advice, give consideration to the other person. Ask pertinent questions about them, especially if you’ve been out of touch for a while. Be honest and open. When requesting a recommendation on LinkedIn, for example, always customize your request to reflect how you value the person’s endorsement.
For new relationships, explain why you want to connect with this particular individual. What is it about her background that makes her an appealing person to talk to? Show that you’ve done your homework. Know about the person’s work history and professional accomplishments, as well as anything career-related you two have in common. Never send an introductory message to a potential connection asking, “So, what exactly does your company do?”
Ask for Something Specific
When you approach someone for career help via social media, know what you want out of the interaction and ask specific questions that show you’ve done your research. Often, people send messages along the lines of “I’m looking to go into marketing. Any advice or leads would be greatly appreciated!” or “Can you tell me more about this job?” in a Twitter DM. These types of messages are so broad that it’s difficult to provide a meaningful and relevant response.
Working professionals are strapped for time. Make it easy for them to help you — specify what you’re looking for. Be Direct.
Take It Offline Whenever Possible
Nothing beats face-to-face interaction or voice-to-voice interaction, when geography prevents you from being in the same location. Social media platforms are great for making introductions and warming up relationships, but ultimately you should take your networking conversations beyond the confines of Twitter and LinkedIn.
In-person meetings allow you to build stronger relationships than back-and-forth messaging online. Things like body language, eye contact, and tone of voice are all essential in helping to establish rapport and build a bond. When this isn’t possible, one solution is to request a Skype call. Not only can you see the person, but you know that you’re getting their full attention.
Along the same lines, when you meet someone through social media, ask for their preferred method of contact. Some people are big e-mailers, while others love talking on the phone or meeting for coffee. Respect their preferences.
Say “Thank You”
It’s a simple step that many people miss. Show appreciation when someone does something nice for you online. Whether it’s responding to a few questions, retweeting a link to your blog post, or even connecting you with one of their friends — it’s always appropriate to express your gratitude. It’s especially important to follow-up after someone has provided advice. People like to feel helpful, so let them know if their advice was useful for you.
Continuously look for ways to give back to the people in your online networks. Don’t approach them only when you need a favor. Reach out to say hello or to contribute something you think will be valuable to them. Networking is a two-way street. Plus, in the end, it’s your reputation that counts.