Analyze Your Options
The internet is a big place, my friend. So where do you even begin?
Of course, there are the social media giants - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. But make sure that these sites are in line with what you want for your online networking effort. If Facebook doesn’t look like it’s going to be particularly helpful, don’t waste your time trying to build a presence there when you could be spending it somewhere else. Same goes for all the big social media sites - because they’re so popular, it’s hard to cut through all the noise. Choose wisely.
One excellent way to network is to use the communities on Reddit. Called “subreddits,” these little forums can be an invaluable tool for meeting people and having great discussions. The key is to find subreddits that are specific to your professional interests. If you make films, don’t just join r/movies and call it good. Dig deeper - join r/filmmaking, r/producemyscript, and r/cinemanews.
You can often find relevant subreddits just by using Google - but if you need a little more help, I’ve found the Subreddit Explorer and thisspreadsheet by category quite useful.
Another way to make connections is to do odd jobs - that is, use a freelancing website to complete small, lower-paying jobs in order to build relationships with potential future employers. That way, they know you’re reliable, they know you do good work, and they know who to call if they need someone in the future. Check out Fiverr, Odesk, and Elance for some easy sites to get signed up on.
Still prefer some in-person interaction? Check out Meetup.com for networking activities in your area.
Create a Personal Brand
We’ve written about branding a lot on the Marketecture blog. When it comes to your online success, good branding is one of the most important things you can do to make sure you go far.
In the case of networking, you want to create a strong, consistent personal brand that draws in people of similar interests. Make sure that all your profile pictures, bios, and posts demonstrate who you are as a professional; that means you should probably stay away from the goofy selfies and emoticons in this situation. Sorry!
Use keywords in your bios that help people know what you’re all about. If you’re on Twitter, don’t just use the bio space to paste in your favorite quote! People are searching for fellow writers, fellow real estate agents, fellow software programmers. Make yourself available for networking by including those words in your bio.
A word of caution - your online reputation is extremely valuable, and you should treat it as such. Don’t engage in online flame wars with your professional account, and never say something online that you wouldn’t want your boss to hear you say in the office.
This brings us to the most familiar part of networking: actually meeting people and building relationships. There are so many tips I could give you for how to do this right, but in the end you need to just experiment and find out what works for you and the people you’re trying to connect with. However, I can’t resist giving you a few ideas to get you started:
- Start conversations in the comments. If someone you follow shares a post that gets you thinking, let them know. Share an insightful comment or ask a question. Remember, this should be organic; don’t force it.
- Send a personal message. This can easily be annoying, though, so be careful. Make the message specific to that particular person, and don’t ask them to immediately check out your ebook or your resume. Introduce yourself, show that you’ve done your research about who they are, and then ask a question or two about their field that isn’t too intrusive.
- Share their content. If you read a great article by a professional in your field, post it on Twitter and tag their account. This is flattering to them, and most people will either favorite, retweet, or reply back.
- Shine the spotlight. Email some influencers in your industry and ask if you can spotlight them for an upcoming blog post. They’ll likely be happy to participate because it means good press for them. Put together a good email interview with them, and when you post it on your blog, be sure to send them the link. Be sure to thank them, then invite them to connect with you on your social media site of choice.
Remember this in all your online networking adventures: good etiquette is essential. If you join a community in order to network, be sure you know the rules before you go around posting anything. Familiarize yourself with any FAQs, and never be overly self-promotional. Instead, listen and converse, just like you would in real life. Keep all this in mind and you’re well on your way to being an online networking champion!