Tips for Online Professional Networking

By Beth Kanter

Professional networking, meeting and connecting with people who can help you get things done, is an indispensable skill for all professionals. Using online social networks – like Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Twitter can give you an extra burst of energy. While these online tools make it simple for you to connect with people and give you easy entrée to their connections, it is what happens after you are introduced that really counts. It's all about how you cultivate and build your professional network in strategic ways. Sure, the tools can help, but they are just tools. The secret sauce is relationship building.

Here’s the recipe ….

1. Meet people as people first.

I love that phrase. I love it so much, I borrowed it from Connie Bensen, a social media guru who used it in this blog post about networking 101. () What Connie is saying is that is the quality of the relationships that you build online that really matter, not just how many people you meet. When you attend a professional conference or other face-to-face networking event, do you focus on collecting as many business cards as possible, without taking the time to have a conversation with that person (as well as you can in that setting) or follow up afterwards?

Of course not!

Business relationships, like fine wine, mature over time – from first encounter to trusted colleague. Remember that. Want a theoretical framework? Read Rachel Happe’s ‘”Relationship Development is a process, sometimes tools can help.”

2. Reciprocity is important -- It isn't alway gimme, gimme, gimme

Don’t always ask people to help you or give you something every time you interact with them. And please don’t make that your first point of contact with someone you have just just met. That’s a huge turn off.

It’s important to be helpful, share resources connect people to other people. Social networks – like Facebook and Twitter let you glean a lot of information about what your friends are up to or might need. Set aside some time to check status lines and think about how you may be helpful to them, not the other way around.

It’s like putting money in the bank for a rainy day. You will be surprised in the many ways approaching your network this way will reward you.

Marnie Webb has written about this in her post “Networking Your Networked Network

3. Interweave and connect with others within your network and keep connected

Uplift people in your network when they need it and they will do so back. Take every opportunity to keep connected to people in your network – it’s like tending a garden. I schedule time each week to tend to my network and I try to do it in structure ways – it’s part of my daily routine – maybe 5-10 minutes per day. I also try to take special care to follow up after I’ve met someone at a conference where the connection really resonated. Here’s some wonderful conference networking hacks from Chris Brogan,

Liz Strauss, writes about how to tend to your online relationships. She once left a tip in a comment of a post I wrote several months and I continue to use it – Liz says, “Meet your friends by noticing people who have ideas that intrigue you and begin by asking them to elaborate on what they said.”

June Holley’s Network Weaving Checklist can help you think about how to approach this interweaving in a structure way. or Bob Allare’s Care and Feeding of Your Network for maintenance tips.

4. Make time to meet new people each week

No matter how busy I am, I try to connect with new people each week. I also get lots of inspiration and new ideas by connecting with people who are outside my main industry or topic area. Life can get boring if you get stuck in a silo or only interact with people who think just like you or cover the same topics. Be a renaissance, cross-disciplinary networker. Think creatively about the new types of people and connections you want to make –think outside your subject matter area.

5. Build your network before you need it

There are many reasons why it is important to invest in your network before you need it. (/). As you’ve probably gathered from reading the other tips, building a vibrant professional network is time consuming and building relationships takes time. People don’t easily trust people who come asking, not giving as Jeremiah Owyang notes.

6. Invest in yourself first

I like to share what I know with other people, but before I can do that I need to keep investing in my learning learning. For me, that translates to carving out time for my professional reading and blogging everyday. And the great thing about having a blog, is that it is a really extraordinary networking tool!

What's your favorite beginner tip for network weaving? Leave in the discussion tab.