Think about all the people you know. And then about all the people they know. Now imagine being able to connect with all of them at the touch of a button. That’s the premise of social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. For savvy networkers, they can be a virtual goldmine.
Ready to start digging? A few pointers will set you on the right path — and help you avoid the biggest pitfalls.
There’s more to making connections in person than shaking hands and handing out business cards. Not surprisingly, the same rules apply on-line.
Focus on developing relationships, not building the biggest possible contact list. Think about what you can give as well as what you can gain: offer advice, make referrals, and share useful resources.
And just like in real life, appearances count, so choose your photo or avatar with care. Likewise, watch what you say: nothing in cyberspace is truly private.
Social media savoir faire
While social media sites can be powerful networking tools, they also give rise to some sticky social dilemmas. Do you really want to add that annoying woman from last week’s conference to your circle of Facebook friends?
Others judge you by the company you keep, so it pays to be a little selective with your connections. Develop a few personal guidelines about what kind of contacts you want to cultivate.
If you do decline an invitation from someone you know, consider sending a polite note explaining your policies. (Complete strangers who contact you with a boilerplate ‘friend me’ request can simply be ignored.)
Extending an invitation to someone? Take a moment to personalize the boilerplate invitation that LinkedIn or Facebook supplies. Remind the recipient of how you’re acquainted or what you have in common. Explain what you hope to get out of the connection and what you hope to offer.
The biggest danger of Facebook — aside from consuming far too much time of your time — lies in blurring the line between your professional and personal lives, so invest some time in mastering the privacy settings.
Consider using the Friend Lists function to set up categories of contacts, such as Family, Close Friends, Coworkers, and Business Contacts. Once you have these in place, you can designate which groups can post to your wall, for example, and which can see the photos from last weekend’s wild party.
Be careful about disclosing personal information. Your profile will automatically display the year of your birth, for instance, unless you change the default settings.
Protect the privacy of others as well. A Facebook wall is public space, so while it’s the perfect venue to congratulate a co-worker on her promotion, save more personal comments for e-mail or a private Facebook message.
Want to promote your company, organization, book, or conference? Check out Facebook’s Pages feature.
LinkedIn is often described as Facebook for business, free of any distracting games, virtual gifts, or ‘What Sex in the City character are you?’ quizzes.
Start by creating a networking-friendly profile. For the Summary Section, think elevator pitch or cocktail party introduction: something that displays a bit of personality as well as summing up your professional strengths and interests. Filling in the Experience and Education sections will help people make connections with you.
Don’t post your email address on your profile, however. Because LinkedIn works by tapping the networks of people you know, encouraging strangers to contact you is a no-no.
Successfully worked on a project with a colleague? Ask him or her to write a brief recommendation that you can include with your profile. (When you receive it, don’t forget to send a note of thanks!) And be open to writing endorsements for others — but only if you can genuinely recommend them.
Social media success boils down to two key principles: showing consideration for others, and following Roman rules when you spend time in Rome.
Respect other people’s time, privacy, and contacts. Social capital is valuable, so don’t turn off friends and colleagues with ‘me, me, me’ marketing. And whenever you join an online community, whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, or a dozen other lesser-known sites, tread carefully until you understand the accepted conventions.
The following LinkedIn groups may be of interest: