The beauty of online social networks as compared to in-person networking is speed. Online networking allows you to quickly build your network, search it, and find useful information in ways not possible in person. However, there's still no replacement for in-person networking. Online networking should be used to supplement in-person networking. Effectively using online social networks can be a very powerful way to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in your industry and make connections that lead to in-person contacts or that otherwise wouldn't have been possible.
Building Your Network
The process of building a professional online social network is essentially the same across most social networks.
- Find people/coworkers/companies/organizations/authors/technologies/bloggers/etc. that are prominent in your industry.
- Follow/Subscribe/Like them.
- Look at others that those from #1 are following.
- Look at others who also follow those from #1.
- Repeat from #1 now including those you found from #3-4
As you're building your network, your account page will begin to have a steady stream information from those in your network. Information which can be very valuable from this network includes:
- Upcoming events
- Conferences or conference recordings
- White papers
- Interesting articles/blogs
- Job fairs
- Open houses
Although valuable in and of itself, consuming this information is only part of the approach. The internet was built to be interactive and social networks thrive on this principle. Some ways that you can begin participating include:
- Posting status updates relative to your industry. I find it good to ask myself at the end of the day, "What cool thing or skill did I learn in my industry today?" and post about that.
- Re-post content from your stream that you find interesting. This is appreciated by those who originally posted it and highlights your activity in the industry.
- Reply to those who post content in your stream. This can strike up conversations and lead to good connections with others.
- Write a blog post about what you know and your experiences in the industry then post a link to it on your account page. You do have a blog don't you?
With all of this it is important to be genuine. Just because the activity occurs online, does not mean you shouldn't be just as professional or thoughtful as you would in person. Also, be careful not to post privileged information about your current or past employers.
All of this may seem like it requires quite a bit of time--and that's true. Building a good professional network, whether online or in-person, always requires time and dedication. Now multiply this by a factor of 3 or so in order to replicate this across different social networks and it can be quite time consuming to initially get your networks built. But doing so can have a very positive impact on a job hunt or a career in general.
Fortunately, many social networking sites have a feature where you can link your accounts from other social networking sites. I find this to be a good time saver as it allows me to focus my efforts on one or two social networking sites and allow the others to pull updates from them.
Using the above general strategy, the following are some specifics for different online social networks:
After you create an account, start following the process described above. Besides finding other Twitter accounts to follow, there are particulars on how to effectively communicate on Twitter.
For the uninitiated, a "Tweet" is a status update you post to Twitter that is restricted to 140 characters or less. With this limitation, Twitter has developed a more abbreviated communication style.
The "@" (at) symbol:
This symbol, placed in front of a Twitter account name, puts your Tweet on that account's Twitter page as well as the page of those who may be following it (depending on their individual settings). There can be multiple "@" symbols in one Tweet.
Enjoyed the open house @googlejobs. I learned a lot!
@TrainOSHA Great webinar!
The "#" (hash) symbol:
This symbol, placed before any word, indicates words which you wish to to have this Tweet searchable by. Think of it as a way to tag or categorize Tweets. Generally, it is best to find which hash tags others are using so you use similar tagging terms. These are generally called "hash tags".
Enjoyed the open house @googlejobs. I learned a lot! #google #jobs #openhouse
@TrainOSHA Great webinar! #osha #safety #webinar #free
It is best to link to content. Twitter lets you skirt the 140 character limit when it comes to URLs. It does this by allowing you to link your account to link shortener services (bit.ly) or by automatically using it's own link shortener t.co. This can be configured in the settings portion of your account or by going to those sites and connecting your Twitter account to them. Adding links to your Tweets adds context to what you are talking about and makes your Tweets more useful to others.
Enjoyed the open house @googlejobs ([URL_HERE]). I learned a lot! #google #jobs #openhouse
@TrainOSHA Great webinar ([URL_HERE])! #osha #safety #webinar #freeOnce you familiarize yourself with this kind of communication style, Tweeting can be a very effective way to participate in online professional networks.
The above communication style in Twitter is mostly applicable to other online social networks. Rather than re-describe '@' symbols, # hashtags, and contextual links, I will only point out differences in communication styles between the different online social networks.
Linkedin is a social networking site specifically designed for professionals. Networks in Linkedin are centered around colleagues and groups (both past and present) you've worked with. The networking steps above are applicable to Linkedin.
The most valuable content you put into Linkedin is your resume. See my post on resumes (coming soon) on how to build your resume so it will be easily importable to sites like this. Although Linkedin status updates don't impose the 140 character limit, Linkedin has the ability to pull status updates from your Twitter account and that is what many (most?) people do for convenience. This can be configured in your Linkedin account settings.
Once you've setup your Linkedin account, it is critical to enable public access to it so employers and others who may be seeking to connect with you can find you via public searches. Instructions on how to do this can be found in Linkedin's excellent learning center.
Facebook and Google+ also do not impose the 140 character limit. This allows for longer, more thoughtful posts rather than simply short status-driven messages. However, they are not blogging engines and readers on social networking sites are looking for quick access to information, so keep your content succinct.
Both support '@' symbol directed posts. In a post, after typing '@' and the first character of the person/group/company/etc. in your network, you'll be presented with a list of matches which you can select from. As described above, doing this will cause your post to appear on that person's/group's page as well as the page of those who are following them.
A Note on Privacy:
Since often Facebook and Google+ are also used for your personal connections, it is important to judiciously use the privacy controls to separate your personal and professional information. One way to do this is to enable your public profile and only use it for your professional networking while keeping personal activity private. Here are instructions on how to enable public profiles for these sites:
- Facebook: Under "Home -> Account Settings -> Subscribers" click to "Allow Subscribers"and configure its controls. Then when you want to post something related to your professional profile, select "Public" before posting. Be careful to change this back to "Friends" after making a "Public" post.
- Google+: Under "Account Settings -> Profile and Privacy" click "Edit visibility on profile" and configure how different areas of your profile are available. Similarly, add "Public" to the list of circles your are posting to if you want a post to be public.
Meetup is different from other social networking site listed here since its purpose is to physically connect you to people with common interests in your area. The purpose of this site is to join local groups in and attend "Meetups" where that group gets together in-person. Groups often have guest presenters and events are sometimes hosted by companies. Attending these meetups provides opportunities to make very positive in-person connections in ways not as easy to come by in purely online social networks.
Online social sites provide opportunities in your industry which otherwise wouldn't have been available via more traditional means. As companies search for and leverage these networks, this is becoming the next evolution in career advancement. Following the activity of and participating in these networks can provide an effective way to stay current on the latest developments in your profession and seize new kinds of opportunities.
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