I've used social networking tools since back in '97 when they were called message boards, so today I'm sharing a few of my hard-won tips for making the most out your time on today's powerful connecting tools, like LinkedIn. 1. Check Status Updates
Make a practice of regularly scanning the status updates of your network (wherever you’re connected to them) in order to keep an eye out for opportunities, expressions of interest or stated needs where you might be able to offer help. I note things like:
- Referrals needed
- Request to help spread the word or re-post things
- Subcontractor requests, etc.
Responding to these requests is great way to practice pay-it-forward style networking and is something I see reciprocated more often than I ever expected. I allocate about 10-15 minutes each day to complete this worthwhile task. 2. Initiate Beneficial Connections for Others
Don’t wait for folks to initiate a request to be introduced to your other contacts. Review your own contact lists regularly looking for introductions of potential value to your key connections.
One good way is to offer to introduce them to potential clients or partners is via LinkedIn. Many people use LinkedIn’s functionality to do this so people can see and learn more about the other party and their company or business.
Some people, however, find it’s easier just to email both parties when they know for certain that it’ll be a welcome introduction and then suggest they make the connection on their own. CAUTION: We all know when it may not be a welcome introduction, and in those cases, be sure to contact people individually to get "instructions from the tower" as to how to proceed. 3. Follow Up
LinkedIn is a great tool for doing follow up after meeting someone at an event, over coffee or when you’ve exchanged business cards somewhere randomly. People often send LinkedIn invites as a follow up or simply to add people to their network. They then use it to keep in touch and up-to-date with what is happening with the person they took some time to get to know.
If you decide to use LinkedIn for this purpose as well, make sure that you are more than occasionally updating your own promotions, or publishing articles and are also checking your network’s promotions, events, links, blogs, announcements, articles or whatever else they have shared there.
Try to interact with others when it’s relevant and sincere, and use it as a way to send support via a comment on their article or link-share, a message of congrats on a well-shared article, resources, news or other info you think they might truly find useful. 4. Start a Networking Group
If you can’t find a social networking group on LinkedIn that matches your needs, just create one of your own! It’s a fairly easy process and one where most of the work is actually done before you even create the group.
One of the first things you need to do is describe the group’s mission or purpose, your goals for the group, and then consider deciding on a code of conduct as well. As an example, for my Bella Domain Networking group on LinkedIn one of my “rules” is: Be nice or leave. You might also want to include things like what your policy will be if members post things that aren’t relevant to the group, start contacting members with direct solicitations or are just way “off topic” in general.
When you’re ready to create and promote the group get the word out to your list of members and/or connections and then ask them if they’ll help spread the word as well. As an example, check out this non-profit group for the San Francisco Professional Career Network (SFPCN): http://www.linkedin.com/groups?groupDashboard=&gid=2012303 5. Prepare for Meetings and Calls
When I worked on-site in a business and market development role for a client back in 2008, I had two monitors on my desk. The first had Outlook and a browser open with tabs for Salesforce, Gmail, and whatever else I was focused on or researching at the time. And, the other monitor had a browser open to LinkedIn, and this was the case all day, every day.
I used LinkedIn to prepare for every conference or cold call I had or made, and just as often I used it to look up someone that had called me. I saved time and acquired knowledge by doing this, and since time is money and knowledge is power, I highly recommend using LinkedIn to research prospective clients, potential vendor partners, recruiters, company executives or even the people that might be sitting in on your next client pitch meeting.
More often than not, you can get the names of most of these folks in advance because the person that has invited you wants the meeting to be as successful as possible for all parties involved, so they’ll usually send that info along if you ask for it. Sometimes, if the person setting the meeting or call is truly invested in you or your company’s solution, they will just offer this info up in advance, but other times they wait for YOU to ASK and, if you don’t, it will become a little black mark next to your name or the company you represent. Seriously.
Doing this type of research (homework!) gives you an edge and enables you to find common ground with an individual or even potential areas of similar interest or for future collaborations. And, yes, I even use LinkedIn and similar sites to research new Twitter followers (@sandyjk).
Sandy Jones-Kaminski is a self-described networking enthusiast and the author of "I’m at a Networking Event--Now What???" She’s been an executive in the HR industry and was recently the VP of Networking for one of the largest chapters of a national professional development and trade association. Sandy shares her professional insights on personal branding and effective networking via webinars, one-on-one coaching, workshops and by facilitating in-person networking events called Pay It Forward Parties. You can connect with her via her website at http://www.belladomain.com or via firstname.lastname@example.org or 415.613.8508.
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