Building out a relationship rolodex or deepening your professional network can sometimes feel overwhelming. Unfortunately that can lead to networking behavior that is counterproductive to our goals.
This post is going to address the topic of better networking on social media to save yourself time, energy, and most importantly face. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram, social media is a highly valuable conduit for professional networking, but you’ve got to navigate it carefully and purposefully.
I recently received an unsolicited message from someone on LinkedIn who is part of my broader online network but with whom I have had no previous interaction. The message was clearly a generic, templated attempt at professional outreach and the product being pushed was completely unrelated to my field and irrelevant to my personal needs or interests. My initial response was confusion.
To make matters even worse, out of curiosity I did reply asking for some detail around what value their company could offer to me specifically, and it took a week for them to get back to me. If you’re going to use social media to solicit potential customers and business partnerships then you absolutely cannot afford to let a lead get cold like that.
So where did they go wrong?
1. Know your audience. Networking is about exchanging value. Don’t just spam your social networks with a templated sales pitch. Instead take the time to identify your actual target audience and how they use social media, if at all, and customize your messaging to make it as relevant as possible for that individual. If you don’t how it’s relevant to them, you probably have no business reaching out in the first place.
2. Know your value, and respect theirs. Professional networking is a two way street. Beyond what a potential business contact can offer you, what can you legitimately offer to them? What problem does your business solve? What unique value can you provide?
Again, is what you’re offering truly relevant to them on either a personal or professional level? Is there something about you personally that might overlap with their own personal interests and background? Is there a chance you might need their endorsement or help in the future? If not, why network in the first place?
3. Show up prepared. Obtaining answers to the questions above is as simple as doing your homework. Use social media to learn about potential contacts or professional groups that you can join. Once you’re a member then the real work begins as you become a contributor (or at least an active spectator) to the ongoing group dialogue. Perform intelligent research on LinkedIn to filter through the various industries, sub-fields, job titles, and geography that is relevant to you. Read profiles, cross reference Twitter profiles and activity, etc.
4. Be a historian. Study what makes headlines in your field both currently and even historically. Familiarize yourself with the trending topics that concern your growing professional network. Knowledge is definitely power and part of predicting the future is knowing how far things have come and how they have evolved over time. Who are the important figures? Who are the emerging voices? What do you think lies ahead for your profession, your business, and the people around you?
5. Make it personal. Now that you’re armed with knowledge, it’s time to act on it socially. I have yet to meet anyone that enjoys being cold called, and few people enjoy making a cold call. You need an ice breaker, and by an “ice breaker” I’m not talking about brazenly sending out a mass email to every person in your LinkedIn network.
The best way to break the ice with people is to take an interest in them. Let them get to know you, and build trust organically. The rest will come, assuming that you’re genuine in your interest and you don’t waste their time. People can tell when you’re grasping at straws. They can also tell when you actually do share their love of baseball. If you know someone in common, you can always ask your mutual friend for a casual introduction.
Above all, the key to successfully building a network is a combination of authenticity and patience. I’m not gonna lie, it also helps if you’re not totally boring or a jerk. People like to do business with people that are a pleasure to do business with; end of story.
6. Put yourself out there. When available, industry or professional events are a great opportunity to rub elbows with people face-to-face. Use social media to find out when and where those events are happening, and get yourself there.
Also consider membership in professional groups online, interact with others on social media by commenting meaningfully on their content, and/or consider publishing your own content in any number of public forums and social platforms where members of your network(s) commonly engage. People do pay attention to what you contribute, and they may even be inspired to reach out to you directly because of something that you shared.
If you’re serious about being part of the conversation, you should keep your social media accounts updated and your profiles should be filled out, spell checked, consistently punctuated, and full of information that provides people with a decent overview of what you’re about and what you do. Don’t forget to upload a headshot, preferably taken within the last few years.