In the past, the only real way to network with folks outside your daily circle was to attend formal networking events and meet people in person.
Now, while formal networking events still have importance, they are supplemented with the Internet and social media. On a daily basis, from my desk, I can interact and “network” with people anywhere in the world; people whom I probably never would have come across otherwise.
No doubt: the Internet and social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and network.
On the other hand, networking has become almost too casual online.
For example, anyone can “endorse” your skills on LinkedIn. I love networking online because I can talk to people I may not have ever had a chance to in real life. However, I still understand that I need to build a relationship before I ask anything from them. As I was once told, networking is like flirting; you have to be careful to not be overly aggressive and pushy.
From my perspective, here are five lessons to keep in mind when first building your network:
1. Find a Person’s Preferred Communication Channel
Just because you can find someone’s email address, Twitter handle, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube channel, blog comment card, etc. does not mean you should contact them on every channel. Where is the person most active? What platform makes the most sense to communicate with them, relative to why you want to build a relationship?
If you bombard someone with messages on every single channel, yes, they are probably more likely to see the message. However they also are probably more likely to ignore it. The same communication method is probably not the most appropriate for every situation or every person. I know I am more likely to forget about a DM on Twitter than I am to forget about an email. Know where the person you are trying to connect with is most active.
2. Say Just Enough
Do not send a long email or social media message explaining why you want to connect. Twitter has taught us how to communicate our message in only 140 characters. Use those skills to pitch yourself as concisely as possible. Think about if you met this person at a networking event or on an elevator; you would have maybe 30 seconds with them.
Just because you can send a lengthy message online does not mean you should. You likely have not earned the five minutes (or more) of the recipient’s time that it will take to read that message.
3. Don’t Expect a Response
I hate the lines “please respond” and “please get back to me.” If you are contacting someone who is not a good friend or colleague, you are not entitled to a response. Just because you can find someone’s email address online does not mean you should expect them to read your message and respond to you.
An alternative way to request a response is something like “I look forward to connecting with you.” Or perhaps just view your request to connect as a given in itself that you would like the other party to respond… (no separate “please respond” needed).
4. Give Space
This point is related to the one above; if you do not get a response immediately, do not continue to send messages. Just because we now can contact each other 24 hours a day does not mean the other person is sitting there, hitting refresh waiting for your message. People are busy. Networking is time consuming and sometimes takes a backseat to other responsibilities, especially regarding someone who you do not have an already established relationship with.
Do not send someone a message every few days, hoping that the pure volume of messages will get you noticed and elicit a response.
5. Be Cautious with the “Ask”
As a soon-to-be college graduate, I am spending a fair amount of time building my personal brand and networking and reaching out to people online. Networking online is a great resource for job seekers. But, just because I have been able to interact with some pretty big names in the industry online does not mean I would ask them to help me make connections, list them as a reference or beg them for a job right away. And it does not mean I shouldn’t extend that relationship past digital at every opportunity.
“Social media is a helpful way to enhance serendipity, but there’s no replacement for face-to-face.” – Todd Van Hoosear
I am investing the appropriate time to building quality relationships with colleagues, mentors and influencers in hope that my efforts will pay off in the future. My philosophy for not “asking” too soon:
I wouldn’t ask someone to marry me on the first date, would I?
How are you building your personal network?
About the Author: Originally from Bethesda, Maryland, Ben Heyman is a senior at Boston University, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations in May 2013. He is passionate about technology, social and new media and public relations. He is fascinated by the idea of using technology and social media to enhance our lives. Ben is actively looking for full time employment to begin his professional career. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter!