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5 Steps for Successful Networking with Social Media

Chris Perry

Social media is one of the most powerful networking tools at our fingertips today. It can help us find, connect to and engage with the people who can help us land that next big break. Potential employers, industry leaders, business partners and customers are more accessible than ever before.

Yet while most job seekers are aware of social media's value in the networking process, many do not know how to leverage it to make strong connections, sustain those relationships and turn them into new career opportunities.      

Follow these five key steps and turn social media connections into professional networking success.

1. Build a Credible Online Presence

Before you start networking, ensure that you're present, visible and credible across all the platforms and social networks on which you plan to connect. This seemingly obvious step is critical. When you reach out to people, they will only have your social media profiles or email signature by which to judge you and your credibility. This first impression could make or break potential networking opportunities.

Start building a credible online presence with these tips:

  • Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and complete
  • Audit your Facebook profile or limit visibility so that it is not a liability in your networking
  • Include a professional signature section in your emails, including your contact information and links to your social media profiles and any websites you maintain
  • Consider creating your own personal website, and link to it from all of your social media profiles
  • Ensure that all of your visible social media profiles (including your Twitter profile and/or blog) are professional looking and actively maintained: inactive pages make you look less committed

While there are many ways in which you can build a professional online presence, these fundamentals will keep you from losing valuable networking opportunities.

2. Find the Right Contacts

Depending on your networking objectives (e.g., job search, business development), potential contacts can be found in a number of different ways and places. 

If you're seeking career opportunities, LinkedIn is one of the best places to invest your time. 

  • Use the People tool to search names, specific companies or job titles, including "recruiter" and/or the title of the hiring manager for your career function/industry
  • Review the Companies directory to identify employers, and drill down into the current employee list to help uncover potential connections
  • Scan the Jobs board to discover opportunities and companies, as well as the recruiters and hiring managers who posted them (these are often the best people to contact initially)
  • Join up to 50 LinkedIn Groups that are relevant to your job search, industry or function, and discover even more new contacts with whom you can engage

Don't forget Twitter: A number of hiring managers and employers manage accounts specifically for recruitment, making this a great place to engage with potential contacts.  

If you're seeking industry experts or business partners, there are even more opportunities to connect with them via social media. Many thought leaders maintain their own blogs and/or write regularly for other industry blogs, so do some Google searches for top blogs within your area of interest. Alltop.com is another great resource. This online magazine rack for blogs allows you to choose your categories of interest to discover new blogs and experts with whom you can engage.

3. Respect Their Preferred Communication Channel

As you do your research to find potential contacts, make sure to note their preferred method of communication, as this will undoubtedly help you get a quicker response and make a stronger connection.

Sometimes they will state this publicly, whether it be in their LinkedIn profile summary or on their blog or personal website. If you found them on Twitter or Facebook and they appear to be recently active and engaged in direct conversations on these networks, this is likely the initial channel to try. If they are active bloggers, consider commenting on one of their posts and/or using their contact form to initiate communication. If they don't state their preferred method of communication publicly, then it is safe to proceed via email or LinkedIn.

4. Hook Them with Concise, Up front Communication

In today's digital age, less is more. When you first reach out to your target contacts, this is not the time to share your life story and all the reasons you want to connect with them. At this initial point, you need to earn their attention and engagement, so be brief and upfront about who you are and why you are reaching out.

No matter what platform you use, your message should give them: a) just enough information to determine the value of responding, and b) easy access to respond and learn more. All of your messages should include an email signature with your contact information and links to your website or profiles.

Don't be discouraged if your initial outreach doesn't get a response. Continue to refine your message to ensure that you are communicating clearly and concisely, while giving your potential contact a reason to continue a relationship with you.

Read more to learn how to get informational interviews.

5. Make Yourself Valuable and Follow Up Thoughtfully

Both before and after you make a connection, always follow the 80/20 rule to ensure that you remain valuable to your new contact. This means that 80 percent of your interaction and communication should serve the needs of your audience, and only 20 percent should serve you and your needs. By maintaining this balance in your networking efforts, you should see a higher rate of response and a higher return on the relationship.

Many professionals feel that they need to consistently ping their network to maintain their relationships, even if only for the sake of "staying connected." However, for the most effective networking, be strategic with your outreach. One thoughtful communication that serves the needs of both you and the recipient advances your relationship countless times further than several superficial ones.

Chris Perry, MBA is a Gen Y brand and marketing generator, a career search and personal branding expert and the founder of Career Rocketeer and Launchpad.