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Virtual Networking

Author: Mike Scaletti

Networking is perhaps the most powerful professional tool in your belt. It allows you to make connections that can expand your opportunities and/or knowledge base, while simultaneously provide you with numerous professional resources. Social networks have been a part of that toolset for quite some time, but in the age of social distancing, it may be time to reexamine how you are using social media, and perhaps step your game up.

LinkedIn is a great example to start with. How do you decide who to add and who not to add? Do you accept networking requests from everyone who sends them? Are you open to meeting new people?

It is not uncommon for people to approach LinkedIn with the same MO that they approach other social media sites and only add people that they have personally worked with or that they know directly. That is the exact wrong approach. By only accepting requests from people you ALREADY know, you are not in any significant fashion growing your network.

Now, this isn't to say that you need to accept every friend request that comes your way, but if you're not using social networks to, well, build a social network, well then what is the point? These networks exist to connect you to people, and those connections can, in turn, help you get the most out of your career.

The professional world runs on trust and relationships. Make sure you're not missing out on opportunities to build those in your social media networks.

Here are some additional tips to get you started.

Stay Up To Date

Make sure that all of your information on all of your social media networks is up to date, and that you have included all the information you feel comfortable sharing. Don't shy away from your hobbies and interests! You're a human being, and being seen as an individual will only help you to stand out in your networking attempts.

The more information you share, such as where you went to school, what you're passionate about, or organizations you volunteer for, the more chances you have of making a connection with someone who could end up being important to your professional development!

Network Globally, but Communicate Individually

A lot of social media networks can provide you with templates to use when communicating with potential connections. These can be extremely tempting, as they take a lot of the thinking and stressing out of contacting someone. But don't fall for it, it's a trap.

You're not the only one who sees those templates, and often they read exactly like what they are, an insincere mass communication. Take the time to craft each message you send individually. This will pay off in the long run, as you will build deeper, more meaningful connections.

Know Who It Is You're Contacting

In any professional endeavor, research and preparation are key. Networking is no different. If you find an individual or organization that you think would serve as a valuable connection, make sure you know all about them before reaching out! Do your research and be prepared to discuss their roles and process in depth.

Here are some things that you should know before you connect:

  • What do they do? What is their title and what is their organization's purpose?

  • How long have they been at their organization and how long has the organization existed?

  • What was their role before this one? And before that?

  • Do you have any connections in common?

  • Have they been published? Have they been mentioned in other publications?

If someone accepts your information to connect, having this information available to you will help you get a conversation going, and help begin building a fruitful relationship.

Set Goals to Stay on Track

This one is pretty straightforward. If you are actively working on building your network, whether because you are attempting to find a new job, change paths, expand your role, or something else, set yourself easily trackable, achievable goals.

For example, give yourself a goal of meaningfully connecting with 3 new people a week and having a conversation with them. And then STICK TO IT! Don't forget to reward yourself when you achieve your goals.

Be Approachable!

This doesn't just mean sitting back and being passively welcoming. Work to make yourself someone that others want to connect with! Share your opinion and resources with your network. Hone your voice, and provide value. Comment and provide feedback on the resources and opinions of others. Engage in ongoing public conversations.

All of these things will help show that you are someone WORTH connecting to, and that you bring value to your connections.

Don't Be Needy

Reputation is everything in the professional world, and the last thing you want is to be known as a "taker", someone who constantly reaches out for favors, recommendations, etc. without giving anything back.

Ideally, you will make connections by showing your appreciation for the work that others are doing while sharing resources and knowledge that they may not already have access to. By doing this and staying in close contact with your network you will be building a foundation for future opportunities and demonstrating you value as a resource and connection.

Build a Website

If you find that you are not able to effectively or completely communicate the entirety of your work and accomplishments via established social media outlets, don't let that stop you! Build a website or digital portfolio where you can show off all the things that you are most proud of, professionally! Many social media sites allow you to connect your profile to an external website, so you can then incorporate that into your existing networking plan!

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