Have you joined several social networks and wondered what to do next? Maybe you have been nudged, or even coerced into joining LinkedIn.com and then the family photo site on Facebook and finally Twitter for no good reason.
You filled out your LinkedIn profile as a reasonably respectable historical career document and may have even done a passable job at positioning and branding as well. Eventually several business colleagues have had you recommend them or have recommended you on LinkedIn.
Now what? Or, perhaps more aptly, so what? This is where most people except for sales types, recruiters and the unemployed stop cold. It is natural that an executive would have reasonable concern about inappropriate visibility. Most professionals worry for their over exposure on social networking sites and are therefore be reluctant to use LinkedIn even if they knew what to do next.
There is good reason to step cautiously into the social networking milieu as these sites are not private and nor well-screened and protected like a BlueSteps.com. If you are on LinkedIn over 42,000,000 other professionals have access to your profile.
It may be comforting to executives from all the Fortune 500 companies are on LinkedIn. However your company’s Social Media policies and your concern for the impression your LinkedIn profile makes back at headquarters can create misgivings about the value and nature of Social Networking.
Social Networking is not a passing fancy or fad but rather is now becoming an integral tool for business and career advancement. While proceeding with caution, there are some key ways to leverage Social Networking sites, especially LinkedIn, to enhance business and career opportunities.
Here are some ideas on how to find the best connections to build your network once you have created your profile on LinkedIn and other sites because that’s what’s next.
Find Lost Connections
Obviously, to build business and career opportunities on any social networking site one must be connected to people. It is an imperative to have at least 150 to 300 connections on any Social Networking site to be able to do business. Typically it is more difficult to get to that number on Linked than Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook if you can find someone, they will typically accept your friendship request and with Twitter you can “follow” practically anybody.
The best connections to start with on LinkedIn, aside from the obvious immediate colleagues, business friends, and fellow alumni, are all the people you haven’t stayed in touch with or have lost their contact information. Consider them low hanging fruit. They knew you and you had a relationship with them. Further, they are able open doors to opportunities for you outside the inner core networking circles that you have built around yourself.
Ironically, those lost connections, if you are in job search mode, may even enable you to revisit that fork in your career path you faced from years ago and allow you to try the road not chosen at the time.
Create New Relationships from Previous Employment
LinkedIn has a Search People function that they promote to recruiters for obtaining back door references on professionals. In fact they call it Reference Search. This search function enables you to find people working at a previous employer the same time that you were. You can generate the same results but for purpose of building your network of connections.
Insert the name of the organization in the search box, and the range of dates that you were working there. LinkedIn will pull up all the people who were employed there at the same time and are connected to you by 2nd or 3rd degrees. This process works best if you are already connected to around 100 people as the search results will generate a sufficient number to choose among.
It is irrelevant that you didn’t know those people at the time you worked there. They may have been at a higher level or in a different division. The basis for the relationship is the commonality of having been somewhere at the same time. It is the “fellow travelers” syndrome in real life that also works online. This enables you to extend an invitation to a relative stranger but from the same company to connect with you and they most likely will.
Facebook doesn’t bother with who you are connected to but how well you do the advanced search. Twitter it too new to even try this as there aren’t enough people yet. In all Social Networking, the discrimination you exercise in who you choose to connect to is what drives business and career opportunities. The quality of the connection is the key.
Initiate a Group
Linked brags about having over 300,000 groups. Since they are easy to start and run (I own three) and can actually give you great visibility for business relationships than being a joiner of other people’s groups. The key is to choose your group’s focus/topic/title with great care for the kinds of connections you want to make as the group will grow virally based on the topic without you having to do much.
Facebook has even more groups that are even easier to start than LinkedIn’s. But, the ultimate advantage to using LinkedIn is that more professionals are on it and want to be on it for its reputation compared to Facebook.
Eventually, your Linkdin or Facebook group can become a mailing list and audience for your future e-book, white paper and/or blog postings as you build your reputation online . As group leader, the position enables opportunistic self-promotion or promotion of your company and services.
Link to Like Kind
Who you connect to is crucial unless you plan to connect to tens of thousands like I have as an indiscriminate bid for volume access to provide to my clients through my connections. Most executives choose to limit their connections to people they know or get to know. The latter is the key in cultivating a high caliber base of connections. Who do you want to get to know to enhance your business and career?
As an EVP, CEO, CFO, CMO, etc doing an Advanced People Search on all executive level titles in your industry would provide a list to target as worthwhile connections. Again, seeking commonality, this time of industry and field, opens doors to new connections when you proceed to contact them by InMail or through a mutual connection.
The goal of networking is to be able to call on a wide and deep base of people in your sector, field and industry for professional help. The bigger your online Social Network the better given because there is no need to maintain it with frequent attention. This is best achieved by connecting to people using commonalities. Having something in common instills an instant sense of connection without having to do much about it until you need it.
The obvious example of commonality is being able to tap into your university’s alumni database expecting to be well received. The commonality of the alumni community is driven home from the first day through graduation and reminded at every reunion.
Build an Employee LinkedIn Networking Base
The smartest thing any executive can do is get out in front of the trend and lead it to their business advantage. This goes for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. You employees are on it, right? Then you should be too with gusto. They aren’t job hunting just because they have embraced Social Networking. If they are going to leave, they will regardless. Encouraging their participation on Social Networking sites brings advantages to your business.
First of all, encourage recommendations among your all your employees. If everyone is saying laudable things openly about their fellow employees that sends a clear message to customer, analysts, funders and competitors, who are all on LinkedIn. It implies that company is a great place to work and with great products and services.
Secondly, encourage employees to build networks and connections not just with each other but throughout LinkedIn. This inevitably will bring residual benefits to your business through access to talent for recruiting, broadr business development and greater sales opportunities.
They are going to do it anyhow so why not harness the energy and momentum by having employees follow the company Twitter posts and join the company’s Facebook group. This attracts their business friends and followers to you as well.
Knowing What to Ask For
There is an underlying assumption in all of the above is that you have clear, feasible business and career goals in mind for all your use of Social Networks. Eventually you will want to make use of these connections, friends, and followers. But do accumulate them well in advance of your need as Social Networks take consistent application of time and energy to grow.
As Harvey Mackay’s book title states you must “Dig the Well Before You're Thirsty”. Then when the time comes to activate your Social Network, it will provide.