Recently I’ve been out and about touring some universities to speak to students about networking online. We know that in the competitive workplace, networking can give you the edge. However if you’re new to the workplace, have few professional contacts so far and are not sure who to connect with, it can seem very daunting. Following on from my social media job-hunt sessions and taking into account the great questions and feedback I’ve heard from some extremely talented students, I’ve put together a five-part series exploring networking from the basics to leveraging your contacts professionally.
So first in the series was: Creating an online network to help your career
This is part two – Building and connecting with your network.
Once you’ve identified the kind of people you want in your network it’s time to connect and build relationships with them.
When I was at Falmouth I was actually asked by a student “What do you say to someone to ask them to connect?” It’s a good question actually, and there’s been lots of research on what ensures the most ‘connection acceptances’ – personalised invites, straightforward connect requests, name-dropping, indroductions… a lot of it comes down to personal taste and style.
For example I personally don’t mind the simple ‘I’d like to add you to my professional network’ on LinkedIn approach – I always look at someone’s profile and decide if they look interesting. I don’t mind connecting with people I haven’t met yet either. But both of those are personal decisions.
On Twitter of course you don’t need to ask permission, but if you want to be followed, make sure you have a killer bio. Or at least, one that accurately describes you and your tweeting.
Mine: Community manager at BraveNewTalent. Journalist. Triathlete. Still all about vegan cupcakes, fitness, subversive cross stitch and Eurovison – hell yeah!
This might not be ‘killer’ but it is tailored to the subjects I tweet about. It makes it really clear that I’m going to tweet a lot about recruitment type stuff, media, training, baking, plus the occasional crafty project when I’m working on one. And once a year my poor followers have to put up with some Eurovision Song Contest tweets. Well – at least they were warned!
BraveNewTalent is similar in that you can simply follow an employer – but if you want to get noticed you need to have a full profile and killer statement so they know you are right for them.
Asking to connect
On any platform, when you ask to connect with someone, you are asking them to take you in to their own personal community. A lot of people, including many recruiters, are ‘open’ to connecting with people they haven’t met yet, so it is always worth asking- politely. There’s no need to write an essay but it doesn’t take much time to say – ‘Hi, I’m interested in your work and would like to connect with you’ – or even ‘I’m a new graduate trying to carve out a career in marketing and hoped you’d agree to connect with me as we have some similar interests. Thanks for your time’. Or something like that which you feel comfortable with. Most importantly, don’t be scared to ask.
It’s a good idea to reach out to say hello to new contacts. Maybe explain who you are and wish them a good day. However, it’s well accepted to add people and then watch from a distance for a while before joining in or starting a conversation.
If you are new to some of the social platforms you’ll be able to use the tools properly in the way they were intended. For example, when you add people on Twitter , place them into lists. That way you’ll know why you follow people and be able to point others in your direction.
Twitter: keep it simple
A word about auto-following and auto-DMs. Just say no, kids. Auto-follow will inevitably get you following lots of accounts based around ‘adult activities’ usually in connection to Britney Spears whose appeal seems not to have dimmed over the years. Due to the relatively new ‘activity stream’ on Twitter, your followers will also know that you have followed these accounts and will likely ridicule you for it.
The same goes for auto direct messaging when someone follows you. It seems polite to send a message automatically saying hello, and ‘look forward to tweeting with you’ but unfortunately these services got done to death a few years back and they are seen as insincere. So, save yourself the hassle and don’t bother.
Do bother putting up a picture, making your account open (i.e. not locked down) and writing a bio.
When it comes to keeping in touch and building relationships make sure you are active and engaging on all the social networks. Try to have more conversations – reply to people rather than just broadcast as much as possible. Follow hashtags (and see a good list to start with here) and take part in discussions. You’ll soon find yourself saying hello to people daily and gradually friendships and valuable connections will be built.
My old CEO does a sort of quarterly round robin by email with all his news. I really like this idea and keep meaning to do it myself. From my own networking I know that he is well-liked and more importantly, well-remembered. His emails are always a friendly update on what’s going on, but you don’t have to be a CEO to do this – obviously people probably don’t want the nitty-gritty of your ingrowing toenail, but if you can keep people updated on your progress and make it light and relatively short, you’ll have a winner for keeping in touch.
I’m often saying: make the connection online and then cement the relationship offline. Join in tweet ups, meetups (Meetup.com) and other events where you’ll be able to meet your contacts face to face. I’ve been camping, drinking and surfing with people I originally met on twitter. So give networking a shot – it could be the start of a beautiful friendship!
The series: Online Networking