I was first introduced to LinkedIn several years ago by my son, who told me that “I had to join LinkedIn.” I wasn’t sure why I had to join, but I took his advice, wrote my profile, uploaded a picture, and began building my online network by adding connections. I really had no idea where any of these activities would lead me, but I was having fun expanding my virtual network. Over time I became a bit of an expert on LinkedIn, and colleagues would ask me how to use it effectively. From my experience, the starting point is to write a detailed and comprehensive profile, including education and work experience. It is worth spending time to include the most relevant aspects of your career in the profile. It is also important to upload a professional photo and to include peripheral information like links to your blog and other social media sites.
After you have completed your profile (and proofread it), you should then begin inviting anyone and everyone with whom you have a business relationship. This should include people you know to some degree. You don’t need to know them well to invite them to be a connection. Additionally, when someone invites you who you know, accept their invitation and read their profile and list of connections. So you have written a great profile, uploaded a flattering picture of yourself, and begun to build your professional online network.
The next step is to begin to post updates of your professional activities: deals, honors, speaking engagements, publications. Spread the word about your business updates. Include web sites when relevant. LinkedIn will serve as a vehicle to promote your business, and without any cost except your time. If done properly, you can get information out on a regular basis about everything you are doing. Don’t be shy about providing these updates.
Another step is to begin seeking recommendations from connections with whom you have worked: clients, business associates, colleagues. You will also be able to reciprocate and provide others with recommendations on their work. These recommendations will then be posted on your LinkedIn profile. You should also join groups that are related to your field of expertise and education. Depending on the amount of time you have to devote to LinkedIn, you can join in discussions with other members of the groups, make announcements of upcoming events, and pose questions for group members. Ultimately, LinkedIn and other forms of social media are ways to engage and dialogue with members of your online network. Social media is not passive, but a vehicle to engage in virtual communication with others 24/7 and around the world.
You also need to periodically update your profile and continue to invite people to join your network. Read the comments of your various groups, and weigh in when appropriate. The more connections you have and the more active you are, the more value you will derive from LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the premier business social networking site, and has become increasingly important in the process of business development. It should be an integral part of anyone’s social media campaign.
The concept of business networking is changing as rapidly as every new development in social media. Self-styled experts are telling us to tweet, to post, to update, to blog, while traditionalists are insisting that there is no substitution for face-to-face, belly-to-belly old school schmoozing. While some are quick to embrace every new social media fad and channel, others wisely adopt the solid aspects of social media, while continuing to talk to others in person and on the phone. We have more choices than ever about how to build relationships and develop business through the networking process. It takes a discerning approach to utilize all of the options in an optimal manner. For example, we are able to easily find out about people in advance of meetings through Google or LinkedIn. However, this pre-knowledge is not enough. We still need to meet people in the moment and be open to them as they express themselves. Just because we can find out a lot about others in advance doesn’t mean we always should do so. In fact, some people might resent or be suspicious of people who seem to know too much about them. Additionally we might make incorrect assumptions about others based on where they worked or where they went to school.
Social media allows us to “network” in front of a computer screen or on our smart phone. We can certianly enhance the effects of in person meetings by a judicious use of social media. Some people will truly be impressed with us for “doing our homework.” However, a dependence or over emphasis on social media can backfire. You might decide to send a Tweet about a meeting you had with “Bob”, but “Bob” might not have wanted that meeting to be broadcast over the internet. I suggest using social media as an enhancement of the overall networking process, not the centerpiece. If you have a pleasing personality, you are missing out by not meeting others in person. Conversely, it is short-sighted to eschew social media because you don’t know how to navigate it. Ultimately it is the confluence of face-to-face networking and social media that will yield the best overall results.
There have been and will continue to be monumental advances and changes in the way people connect. No one really knows exactly how the business world will look in five or ten years in terms of how people interact with one another. Take a look at business cards of 20 years ago. Almost all of them had physical addresses on them and few of them had e-mail addresses on them. Today almost every business has a web site, and most progressive businesses use that web site as a integral part of doing business. The other day I exchanged cards with one of my competitors, and was astonished that his card did not have his e-mail address on it. You don’t have to be a computer whiz to be successful in business, but you have to at least have an e-mail address so people can get in touch with you.
The real key is balance, and the realization that you have to use various channels in order to connect effectively with a variety of people. More importantly, you have to be flexible and determine which channel they have tuned in, so you can reach them. Be open to change while continuing to use more traditional approaches that still yield positive results.
I started using LinkedIn several years ago at the suggestion of my son, with no profile, no connections, no status updates and no recommendations. Over 1,700 connections, 50 recommendations, and countless updates later, I have come to use LinkedIn for several key benefits. First of all, LinkedIn allows me to find out about people with whom I am meeting or intend to contact. I can learn where they went to school, something about their career path, and other pertinent data. This can be extremely beneficial as a research tool and being informed in advance about the person and their company. Another benefit is getting introductions based on second level connections. Let’s say I want to meet the Administrator at a major law firm, and don’t know where to begin. I simply search the law firm and will immediately see everyone from that firm who is on LinkedIn. I then look for anyone I am connected (1st Level) who might know that person. The more connections I have, the higher the probability that I will have some type of connection to the firm. If I know my connection well enough, I can send a LinkedIn message and ask if they will make the introduction. It’s very powerful, and that power increases with the number of connections. The most fundamental tactics of LinkedIn are t0 write a detailed profile and make a lot of connections.
Another great benefit of LinkedIn is writing updates of your activities and posting articles or blog posts you have written. This can dramatically increase the traffic to your blog or web site. I suggest posting on a regular basis. Make your posts valuable to others, and not merely what you are doing. Information, articles, and humor will all attract attention. There is little doubt that LinkedIn is the premier business social media tool today. It should be used in concert with Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and other medium to improve your SEO. Be aware that the true value of social media inheres in the engagement of others. Respond in a meaningful way to what others in your “groups” post. Be active, continue to increase your connections, learn about them, and engage them on a consistent basis. LinkedIn offers great potential to raise your virtual profile in a significant way. But you have to be active and strategic in order to derive the various benefits of the site. Talk to others who have used the site productively to gain insights into other useful tactics that will enhance your visibility.
The burgeoning of social media holds a special interest to me as a psychologist and teacher of networking and interpersonal communication skills. Is it virtual or is it real? It is both. Social media allows us to communicate in much wider areas than traditional forms of communication like face-to-face and telephonic communication. For me, it has allowed me to spread my network worldwide in ways that would not have been possible in the past by traditional forms of communication. However, social media can never and will never replace other forms. You cannot hear dialects, voice tones, and you certainly can’t smell another person over the internet. Granted, Skype has brought to fruition the promises and predictions of the futurists. We can actually see the people we are talking to on the phone (er, computer) The limits of traditional communication are things such as time and distance. Social media has no such limits. However, in Facebook for example, there are many inherent possibilities for misreading the communication of others. This is especially of sarcasm or use of idioms. The “wall” is a public place where some choose to expose all manners of messages and psychic “dirty underwear.” I use it for humor and philosophical musings, rarely sharing any of my deeply private or inner feelings.
One major advantage (which could also be seen as a disadvantage) of social media is that is puts you in touch with people who are really marginal or peripheral in your social sphere. Many of my many Facebook “friends” are not friends at all, but perhaps are only business acquaintances or friends of friends. And the notion of “unfriending” a relative is truly bizarre to me. It is great to receive a huge number of birthday wishes, but impossible to respond appropriately to all of them. I have learned much about many through social media, and that is mostly a positive for me because of my profession. But am I really open to others who wear extreme or opposing viewpoints on their profile shoulders? I could find something in common in one person, and feel polarized from another. We know much more about others than we did previously if we truly embrace and get involved in social media.
Social media tends to put us in touch with many more people than previously. With that increase there is an inevitable variation in quality that comes with the quantity. For the curious, social media can be a source of endless delight. But it can be a huge time suck, and extremely addictive. It is currently influencing politics, ideas, and athletics. It is influencing almost everything as it is truly in its stage of unprecedented growth. The question of how much you embrace social media depends on your interests and goals. If you are curious about others, want to expand your virtual and real network, have something to say, want to communicate electronically with others from your present and past, or are trying to expand your business, it can be a great boon. But if you are exceedingly private, want to leave your past behind, and hate electronics, then you should probably stick to the old ways.
My generation of baby boomers is deeply divided on this topic. Some are all over it and using it to its maximum, and others don’t know the first thing about it, and aren’t interested in learning about it. No one really knows where all of this is going. One thing is certain, and that is that things will change, and evolve, but social media in some form or another is here to stay. In addition, there are a large number of people that will never call you on your land line or drop in for a visit without texting you first. And like the true early bird that I am, I will Tweet this blog.
There is much and sometimes contentious discussion these days about the best ways to network effectively. On one side are the “old school” traditionalists, who eschew social media and believe it is always best to meet face to face. On the other extreme are social media devotees, who are “true believers” in sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. The best method incorporates the best of both worlds, and involves face to face contact enhanced by the use of social media sites. I refer to this as Holistic Networking. In this approach, networking becomes a way of life that is infused in both in person and online activities.
It is not “either-or” but both methods utilized together that yield the best results. I often hear professionals lament their lack of time and unwillingness to attend so many networking events or to use social media. “I should guest more”, “Did you get any business from LinkedIn” and other comments betray a reluctance to embrace either approach fully. It is perfectly acceptable to use one method more frequently or enthusiastically than the other. You don’t need to attend networking events every week or join numerous social networking sites or groups. The important thing is to realize the value of both approaches and their interaction. One supports the other. For example, you might meet someone at an event, become a connection on LinkedIn and Plaxo, and develop business based more on one approach than the other.
To be an effective networker, you must used a varied approach. Success is really a combination of what you know, who you know and who knows you. Given the global marketing strategy of some businesses, social media allows you to do things that in person networking does not. Conversely, there is a limit in how deep your communication can go online. You can’t shake someone’s hand or see their smile online You need to show up, and show up regularly. Be open minded but don’t overdo one channel at the expense of the other. Network on a consistent basis, follow through and chart the effectiveness of the various strategies.
Below you will find some general tips for effective online social networking. I recommend you focus on a few sites. For business, the best and most used are LinkedIn, Twitter and Plaxo.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Make your profile as detailed as possible with professional background, education and areas of expertise. This is a free online advertisement.
2. Invite everyone you know professionally with a personal note.
3. Build your network daily, weekly and monthly.
4. Join groups related to your professional and educational background.
5. Ask and answer questions.
6. Review your connections, their background and their connections. Level 2 connections might just be the people you want to meet.
7. Acknowledge birthdays and accomplishments of others in your network.