By Julie Stauffer

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.

Enduring truths

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.

Facebook specifics

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 specifics

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.

Closing thoughts

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.

Editor’s note:

The following LinkedIn groups may be of interest:



Group Owner

Global Health Economics Network The professional network of health economists, health outcomes researchers and managers, market access managers, decision makers from the academia, pharmaceutical, healthcare and insurance industries, and from the governmental organizations. Primarily for members of ISPOR, HTAi, HESG and iHEA. Jaro Wex Wechowski
ISPOR (International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research) ISPOR promotes the science of pharmacoeconomics (health economics) and outcomes research and facilitates the translation of this research into useful information for healthcare decision-makers. This is a networking group, open to ISPOR members. David Nolan
Health Economics and Outcomes Research Career Network This is a network for professionals within the field of health economics and outcomes research looking for opportunities in the pharmaceutical sector. James Melody
Pharma Market Access Europe Pharma Market Access Europe group will focus on the following issues:
Market access
What does it mean to European pharma?
Payer’s role in market access strategy
How to learn to speak the language of payers
Shift towards multi-stakeholder model, strategic payer sales and key account management, etc.
Anna Maskalkova
Market Access: Pharma Experts Pharmaceutical experts in market access, pricing & reimbursement, outcomes research, launch marketing, early commercialisation, health economics and clinical development. Paul Simms
Market Access for Canadian Pharma This is a group dedicated to pharma executives and stakeholders who have a vested interested in building effective access and approval strategies leading to a better healthcare market in Canada. Gerard Moore
Market Access Worldwide – A Pharma Market Access/Managed Markets Group Market Access Worldwide welcomes all members working in pharma, pharmaceutical market access, and managed care. Together, we hope to share challenges, opportunities, visions and best practices – collaborating with questions and meeting virtually on a regular basis! Susan Dorfman