How many networking events do you participate in monthly? One? More than five? Do you loathe and avoid networking events? Or do you love meeting new people and building exciting new relationships? Are they online or IRL (In Real Life)?
Many people I talk to are terrified of networking. Typical formal events are held after-hours, when they’re feeling tired and a bit beat up by the day’s work. Meeting with people with whom they have flimsy connections, often in a noisy bar with cheap wine and flat beer, is an act of will some people simply can’t or will not manage.
Yet networking is essential, whether you’re happily employed (only 13 percent of people admit to this, according to an October 2013 Gallup survey) or merely trying to broaden your social connections. Even in the healthiest, most functional workplaces, there is only so much opportunity to expand your connections – think of them as people horizons. And people horizons are where job satisfaction comes from, where you can engage and learn, and even where you may find your next career opportunity.
So if you are not willing or able to network at events, what are the options? Well, we live in a connected, social web world. It’s simple if you decide to commit the time, and effective, to connect virtually, via LinkedIn, Google, Instagram, Pinterest and many other social channels. Virtual connections work if you maintain a reasonably active social profile, if you add value in social interactions, and if you present your online brand in a genuine, engaging way.
Here’s a story about how a friend virtually-networked his way into a new job using the powerful engagement platform, LinkedIn and became a powerful brand ambassador for his new employer. My friend Ted is an accomplished information architect and has mad skills as a writer. Ted is one of those rare people who can simplify the abstract, tie marketing messages and technologies to market trends, and explain the business value of a range of technologies. He’s also somewhat shy and reserved, making it uncomfortable for him to schmooze at networking events. His personality can seem distant and chilly, even though it’s complimented by a dry sense of humor. For Ted – as for many – virtual networking was the solution to broadening his base of connections and expanding his network.
We worked out a connection strategy centered on Ted’s personal blog, then incorporated a social media presence on Twitter and Google+, tying the package together on LinkedIn. Why LinkedIn? As of February 2014, the platform had 277 million users, adding new users every two seconds. More than a third of LinkedIn users are US-based, and the site has nearly 190 unique monthly users. There’s power in those numbers. But how could Ted make those numbers work to build connections? He took the following steps:
- Join LinkedIn Groups.It’s a simple matter to look at the people already in your network and see which groups they participate in, and only slightly more involved to research and join groups in your areas of interest.
- Identify Thought Leaders. Follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn. Ted knows a fair number of IT and SW industry influencers. He followed them on Twitter, added them to G+ circles, and LinkedIn with the top tier.
- Daily Maintenance. It’s fine to set up a strategy, but it won’t pay off without care and social feeding. Ted blogged twice a week on his own site and posted those links to LinkedIn, G+ and Twitter. He also turned his daily morning news scan into an opportunity to post links to relevant articles and blogs, with a few insightful comments. Daily visits to LinkedIn helped him see responses and engage in interactions with his connections.
- Content Marketing. Ted generates top-rate content on his blog. It wasn’t immediately obvious to him how to use that content to market himself, so he did a quick study of content marketing strategies and tactics using books and material from the Content Marketing Institute.
- Regular Profile Tuning.LinkedIn is most powerful when you continually improve and evolve your profile. Think of it as life maintenance, like getting your hair cut or teeth cleaned. You need to invest in the health of your profile to forge strong connections.
- Careful Attention To Keywords.Knowing which keywords are likely to draw the attention of recruiters and potential connections is as simple as figuring out what you want from a job, or from a connection. Become a student of others’ keywords and update yours no less than monthly.
Over the course of three months, Ted picked up 200 connections in his area of interest, some of them industry influencers. Equally important, since he was looking for a job, he attracted the attention of recruiters as well as a few companies he was interested in. Several reached out, and one connection was more powerful and interesting than the others. In a matter of weeks Ted had a new job. Today, his social profile and connections make him an ideal brand ambassador for his new employer. And he’s happy at work. Guess what? He is blogging about this experience.
The lesson is clear for individuals, leaders, recruiters and brands: LinkedIn takes talent acquisition “lead generation” and retention to whole new levels. People can build strong profiles, and stronger connections, with a modest investment of time and energy, and the right amount and use of content – theirs and others’. Leaders, Recruiters and HR pros can also use LinkedIn to continually attract, find and engage with their ideal candidates by leveraging content marketing, influencer relations and much more.
Even if you can’t bear the thought of another networking event, you can be actively networking via virtual channels. Keep your network strong, forge new connections, and pay as much attention to marketing yourself as you do to advocating for your employer. Expanding your people horizons will pay off, both in personal confidence and external perceptions of The Brand You.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.
photo credit: Multi-Ethnic Diverse Group of People In Circle Concept via photopin (license)