3 Steps to Building Your Online Network
Online networking is increasingly important and, for some, the only option for meeting people. Knowing what you want to achieve can drive who you need to connect with. Online networking should be done regularly; it shouldn’t be an activity you think of doing only when you need or want something.
Networking is both making new contacts AND revisiting your existing connections, which may be people you have/had strong relationships with or “colder” contacts that you only have in your network because of mutual connections.
Whether you’re a newbie or seasoned online networker, these tips will help you focus your strategic efforts to connect with people to support your professional goals.
1. Figure Out the “Place(s)” that Works Best for You
If what you’re trying to achieve can be accomplished through your current connections, then a good place to focus your efforts is on social media. The best social media platform for your online networking can depend on your line of work and what types of connections you have. The most likely place for you to start is LinkedIn, which bills itself as the social media platform for professional networking.
Groups on social media (like on LinkedIn and Facebook) are a great place to network with people you likely don’t know, but have common interests or backgrounds (e.g., college alumni, higher ed professionals, regional networks) that instantly add meaning and value to your connection.
Another way to find others with common interests or backgrounds is by attending virtual networking events and conferences. The technologies that support these events have become more sophisticated and offer tools that encourage networking.
2. Show Your Best Self Through Your Profile
When you’re networking online, the first thing a person will likely do once you’ve gotten their attention is click on your name to find out who you are. Your profile is essential to kickstarting what will hopefully be a mutually beneficial connection.
Make sure you update your profile. Some profile housekeeping tasks include adding any new experiences, uploading a (new) profile photo, and revising any headlines/descriptions to reflect your current situation and interests.
Take your profile up a level by transforming it into a vehicle to tell your story. Instead of or in addition to a laundry list of current/past job responsibilities and skills, include how you ended up in a role and what you learned from it. In the Headline or About sections, share your values and what drives you to do your work every day.
Lastly, use your profile to show off your expertise and celebrate your accomplishments. Upload projects and other samples of your work that you are most proud of. LinkedIn allows you to ask for recommendations from your connections – think strategically about who you might want to get one from, such as your past supervisors/managers, direct reports, and others that you’ve collaborated with.
Your profile for a virtual networking event or conference may be simpler than a social media profile, with fewer fields to fill out. At the minimum, upload a photo, share your current title or situation, include your contact information, and link to your social media profile(s).
3. Be Active and Engaged
You’ve figured out where you want to be and your profile is ready for viewing, so it’s time to get out there. Whether you’re engaging with direct contacts or in groups on social media, start liking/reacting to other people’s posts. Post your own updates, questions, and suggestions.
With groups, you may want to observe for a while to get familiar with what types of posts are typical and other group norms. If you’re up for it, your first post could be to introduce yourself and pose a question, share a timely resource, or simply state why you’ve joined the group.
To maximize your time at a virtual networking event, be proactive in engaging with others, more so than any other “place” because it is the closest thing to real-time networking, plus you may have paid to attend. Participate in activities organized by the event host, such as video chatting with fellow attendees and stopping by virtual exhibitor booths. Some of these ways of engaging may feel awkward but remember you’re there to make connections and many people are also trying these tools for the first time.
During your online networking adventures, always be aware of how you show up (such as following proper etiquette and being mindful of what information you share) and take time to build a solid network. Just like all relationships, investing time and resources in expanding and strengthening connections can garner significant benefits in the future.
About the Author: Marcia Silva is the director of marketing and communications at the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium. She is passionate about using digital media and technology to encourage participation and strengthen communities.