Many executives are at a loss when it comes to networking on social media, particularly if they are relatively new to it, or if they are simply more comfortable with face-to-face interactions.

executive_networkingIt’s important to remember that social media networking is still networking—the essence doesn’t change just because it takes place online.

So let’s review what networking is (according to the Random House Learner’s Dictionary of American English):

“The informal sharing of information and services among individuals or groups that have a common interest”

Many people have the misguided notion that networking will get them something in an immediate sense—perhaps because it is very often at the center of conversations about job searches, increasing prospects, etc. However, at its core, networking is about finding opportunities to share knowledge and expertise, making introductions that might facilitate business relations among your contacts, or otherwise helping those within our social and professional networks achieve their goals. What you get out of the equation can often emerge as the side effect of assisting and sharing with others, as you make your own goals known.

When you approach networking in a social media context, you should therefore ask yourself the following questions: How can I leverage this tool to share my knowledge and expertise or help my contacts achieve their goals? How might I expand my social media network to include more people who share a common interest with me or how might I help others to expand their networks?

Before we tackle some of the nuts and bolts of social media networking, let’s discuss how to prepare your online profile so that your networking efforts are more effective. In this article, I will focus on LinkedIn, due to its popularity as a professional social media network. However, many of these tips could be applicable to other sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Preparing your profile

1. Be visible and easy to contact.

Sharing information with others or building your network is difficult if your profile is off limits to people or you are not easy to reach. Ensure that your public profile is visible to everyone and include contact details on your profile so people who share your interests can get in touch.

2. Be approachable.

Your profile should make readers want to reach out to you. Write your summary and experience sections from a first-person perspective to give readers a sense of the person behind the roles and achievements (social media is dehumanizing enough without eliminating the personal pronoun “I” from the conversation!). Don’t be afraid to talk about your leadership philosophy, your vision, and what you’re passionate about.

Choose an appropriate photograph for your profile. It can be challenging to create meaningful relationships on social media, particularly if you have never met the individuals you are connecting with. It is therefore essential to choose a professional headshot where you are facing the camera with a friendly, approachable expression.

3. Be Findable.

Consider SEO (search engine optimization) factors when creating your profile to increase your likelihood of being found by those searching for your areas of expertise. That means not only ensuring that your profile contains critical keywords, but also having a 100% complete profile (meaning a significant amount of content in essential sections such as the Summary, Education, Experience, and Skills sections).

Once your profile is findable, visible, contains substantial, compelling content, and you are easy to contact, you are now ready to start leveraging social media to expand and nourish your network. As stated above, this involves exploring ways to share knowledge and expertise, identify individuals in your network who you might be able to help, and continually add new individuals to your network who you can create meaningful relationships with.

Here are just a few ideas to do so:

1. Update your status regularly, and publish blog posts on LinkedIn Pulse.

What better way to share your expertise (and position yourself as an expert in your field) than by providing meaningful content to your entire network? LinkedIn allows you this possibility through its publishing platform. If your content is of interest to your connections, they will share your posts, helping you to expand your network.

Take time to acknowledge what others share and contribute by reading and leaving comments on their posts. People who have taken the time to carefully craft a post appreciate it when their content is liked and shared. Engaging with authors in their comments section, perhaps by offering your own perspective, is another way to gain visibility—not only with the authors but with their audiences, creating more possibilities to build a larger network.

2. Ask for introductions from close connections.

If you are interested in approaching an organization about a business opportunity or job, you can search for the company on LinkedIn and view who among your contacts have connections with the organization and request an introduction. Whenever reaching out to ask a favor of this sort, balance it with a request for an update from your contact about what’s going on in their life, so you can discover opportunities to help them achieve their goals.

3. Nourish your online network with offline interaction and vice versa.

Merely liking, commenting, and interacting on-screen may not be enough to build meaningful relationships. Balance your social media interactions with face-to-face time with individuals identified through social media. Reach out regularly to people you’ve only interacted with online and see if they would be open to scheduling a Skype session to discuss a shared interest. If you’re travelling somewhere on business, perform an advanced search, where you can identify first-degree connections in the city you’ll be visiting, and identify people to reach out to and schedule a quick cup of coffee with them.

Conversely, take advantage of the very brief encounters in everyday life that would otherwise go nowhere if it weren’t for social media (like chatting with someone during a flight). Add these individuals to your virtual network, so that you can continue to build the relationship online by sharing updates and information and grow your social media network.

4. Make your goals known.

If you are on the hunt for new business or job opportunities and are relying on your network, your connections need to be aware of what your goals are. While it may not make sense to broadcast this on a status update (particularly if you are engaged in a confidential job search), you will want to make sure that targeted individuals are aware of your objective. Take the time to send private, personalized LinkedIn messages to the key individuals in your network to update them on what your current goals are. Again, be sure you offer them the chance to discuss what their current challenges and needs are in order to identify opportunities to help them.

In summary, when considering how to leverage social media platforms for networking, don’t forget what the true spirit of networking is—to share with others, and of course, to build a larger web of people to share with. With that in mind—and backed by a strong online profile that encourages people to connect—you can make effective use of LinkedIn’s various features for networking.

For more help with your LinkedIn profile and networking strategy, book a session with me or one of our other BlueSteps advisors right here. If you’re not currently a BlueSteps member, join today to kickstart your executive career in 2016.


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