Using social media to network in the professional community

by Lee Hopkins on October 3, 2011

in marketing,pr,public speaking,tools

Jump on the bandwagon - image by Matt Hamm

THE EXPLOSION OF social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter in the past decade has forever changed our society. Although these sites first became popular for personal use, they didn’t take long to find their way into the professional world.

Networking has long been one of the most effective tools in business. Social media has eliminated the limits of geography and even the need to “know the right people” by connecting users through shared interests and professional fields. Thanks to social media, it is now much easier to connect with potential employers and customers, as well as peers in your industry, whom you have never met before. Websites like LinkedIn are even specifically designed for professionals, with tools that allow users to post resumes and peer recommendations, or search for a person by company.

However, the world of social media can be complicated and confusing, with so many sites to choose from. Here are a few tips that will help you start using social media to network professionally.

Make It Personal

Any time you send a Facebook message or a LinkedIn connection request, you should try to personalize that request for the person you’re sending it to. If you were introduced through a mutual friend, you may want to mention that friend’s name to reinforce your connection. Even if you’re sending a message to someone you already know well, you should reinforce how valuable that person is to you by showing sincere interest in his or her life. If you’re trying to connect with someone you’ve never met before, such as a potential employer, prove that you’ve done your research by mentioning their professional background and anything career-related that you two have in common.

Connect Offline

Although social networking is great for establishing and managing connections in our busy society, face-to-face interaction is still the best way to strengthen a relationship. Body language, tone of voice, and shared experiences can add meaning to a conversation. Of course, social media can be useful for arranging such meetings. If geography keeps you from meeting someone in person, Skype is a great alternative.

Be Flexible

Just as many people have a preferred mode of contact, many professionals may have a certain social media platform that they prefer to use. Respect these preferences by contacting them through their preferred networking source. It’s also good to keep in mind that each platform has a different set of social rules – for example, while LinkedIn is strictly business, Twitter is where casual opinions and professional content can often mix. Keep this in mind as you navigate the various social networking sites — it may not be a good idea to add a professional acquaintance on Facebook if you don’t want them to see all of your personal content.

Stay Professional

On that note, it’s a common mistake to forget that anything posted on the internet could possibly be viewed by anyone around the world. The young professional just entering the workplace may not always think that pictures from high school shenanigans or college parties are part of his or her online identity, the same identity that represents the company he or she works for. Therefore, it is extremely important to effectively manage privacy settings on social networking sites, so that information is viewed only by those whom you trust.

Say “Thank You”

Just as handwritten thank-you notes are deeply appreciated but rarely written these days, few people think of sending a thank-you message on a social networking site, yet it will mean a great deal to the recipient. Whenever someone does something nice for you online, such as offering advice or connecting you with one of their colleagues, you should express your gratitude. If you do this, it’s more likely that they’ll help you again in the future.

Author: Ariel Stevens has a Masters in Social Work and loves her passion for helping other people. She writes about various topics including social work issues and is the owner of the site Masters In Social Work.

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