LinkedIn is the go-to site for professional networking. General social media sites are also finding their way into more professional settings, especially once you’ve established more than a cursory business relationship. But going through the right motions to invite more connections, accept invitations, and send the auto-populated congratulatory messages isn’t enough.
Whatever you’re doing to manage your online presence is what many others in the field are also doing. While there’s nothing worse than maintaining the LinkedIn and social media standards of accessibility (and it’s far better than falling short), there are better ways to network.
Network by becoming an online thought leader.
Once the Internet got hold of the idea of networking, it became about holding onto a hub of old and passing acquaintances. Being on the periphery of each other’s lives and having online connections to a useful ‘friend of a friend’ became more procedural. And while that does follow the strict definition of what a network’s definition is, it’s a bit stripped down. Instead of being a web of interconnected people and things, it’s just a web of intersecting personal lives.
If you want your networking to be a step above this, the best way is to bring value and conversation to the table. If people know you for your expertise rather than a winding trail of connection points to other people, they become familiar with your name and your work on a whole different level. And once you join the group of people bringing value to online networks, you directly form more valuable networking connections yourself. Here’s how:
Write articles and answers.
Whether you want to build your own personal site or not, the Internet can be a platform for meaningful discussion. You can present thoughts, ideas, and arguments to areas in your industry or even just in your interests. Posting answers on sites like Quora or interacting with others on (relatively professional) forums makes your name known to a wider group. You’ll grow an audience and start to interact with them.
At first glance, these networks don’t seem directly valuable. The people can’t be used as references and they’re not necessarily business connections. But eventually, you will bump into someone who is actually in your industry. Your name will be associated with technical or useful content. A solid online presence can even bolster your connections and networks on LinkedIn because you know more people in more contexts.
It can even lead to direct career-related value. The idea of a job is rapidly transforming. Instead of a nine to five occupation that is strictly separating from your personal life, jobs are becoming everything from office work to online contracting jobs and profitable weekend hobbies. A podcast you made on a whim might start getting sponsorship offers. Even better, a podcast is a format that lets you invite guests to speak and gives you a novel, valuable connection to an industry guru or a renowned expert. It’s much more substantive than a third-hand connection through a professional networking site.
Become a resource on the other side of the table.
Once you’ve written, posted, or podcasted for a while, you will start to interact with others doing the exact same work. They’re not competitors. The online demand for content is too large and based on personal style. Your offer to guest post will be met with, or preceded by, their offer to guest post. You might interview each other or share audiences. You’ll start to develop trusted connections that will refer you to others and refer others to you, especially because you’re doing the same thing.
Now that’s networking.
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