How to Successfully Network via Social Media

When it comes to using social media as a networking tool, many professionals tend to back away. I hear, “it’s too complicated,” or “this is a waste of my time.” There is a belief that posting to social networks can be like yelling into a wind tunnel.

While each of those laments may be true at times, they don’t have to be. In fact, by avoiding social media channels, many professionals are missing out on an important way to gain visibility on the excellent work they do. Using channels such as Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter can help you codify real-time relationships, extend your network beyond geographical boundaries, and inform you of happenings in your industry.

Not sure you have the chops? Here’s a simple guide for approaching social media like you would a cocktail party.

1. Invite yourself to the right cocktail party.

Gone are the days of waiting for an invite to that exclusive networking event. With social media, you can invite yourself. It is important that you attend the right event. How awkward would it be for an architect to show up at a cocktail party for dentists? Likewise, it’s important to engage the right platforms for networking. While this may vary from field to field (a design professional might be more likely to frequent Dribble, for instance, while a consultant may hew to LinkedIn), Google+, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn tend to be the social channels most professionals prefer.

Pro tip: Before you begin social media networking on these channels in earnest, make sure your profiles are up to date with your current headshot, position, accomplishments, and relevant links to your work. In an online world, these comprise your digital first impression. Your profile is a direct representation of your brand and company. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal as this could help to facilitate a bond/connection with other professionals.

2. Scan the room. 

Now that you are at the party, it’s time to figure out where you can offer the most value. To help build your Twitter presence, make sure you are following the right people. By using Twitter’s list-making tool to create a curated list of people you want to build a relationship with in your field. In order to network effectively on Twitter, use keyword and hashtag searches for terms relevant to your field or position. If you’re a CEO, for example, you might search topics such as #CSuite, #leadership and #CEO. When tweeting about those topics, be sure to use relevant hashtags, so that others interested in those same topics will be able to find your tweets.

LinkedIn is a business-focused network that grows in value as your number and quality of connections grows. On LinkedIn, it’s essential to join groups that match your professional interests. To find those groups, visit LinkedIn’s easy-to-use group directory. Also, LinkedIn allows you follow brands, companies and thought leaders, with the option of commenting and liking content they create and push.

Google+ now has 343 million users, second only to Facebook in its social reach. What makes Google+ different is its emphasis on sharing with small groups rather than with all acquaintances. Most importantly, your content will be picked up in Google searches and accelerate your reach.

Pro tip:  Like all networking, expect to give before you get.  If you are thoughtful with your content submissions and opinions, you will be rewarded.

3. Work the room: Build—and keep—an audience.

You’ve found a group of people to follow who share your interests. Now it’s time to engage them. You should approach this just as you would at an offline networking event—building rapport, sharing knowledge, and finding ways to help them.

A few ideas about how to begin:

  • Post an article you wrote or read about an issue that matters to you and your connections – then ask them for their opinion.
  • Ask a connection or follower if they’d like you to connect them to anyone in your network. Connect them.
  • Be generous: If a connection or follower shares quality content, retweet or repost it. In the blogosphere, retweeting is the highest form of compliment.

Pro tip: Try to maintain a regular stream of relevant content submissions.  People will stay interested if you stay interesting.

Though online networking tactics don’t correspond exactly to offline networking techniques, the general principles remain the same: Meet like-minded people; build mutually-beneficial relationships by looking for ways to add value to those across your network; rinse and repeat.