Whether you’re networking via e-mail, social networks, blogs, or message boards, here are fifteen tactics to ensure that your online efforts create some real-life results.
E-Mail Networking (or How to Avoid the Delete Button)
Know your audience.
Are they e-mail or phone people? You never want to force an e-mail person into a phone relationship (or vice versa).
If you wouldn’t do it in person, you don’t want to do it online.
Skipping over polite chitchat and heading right into a sales pitch on the first e-mail, or failing to reply to personally addressed e-mails, will seem just as rude online as offline. Often people treat e-mail as a shield from behind which you can say something negative you wouldn’t say while looking a person straight in the eye. But it’s actually a worse way to vent those frustrations, as the inability to sense tone can make the accusations seem even harsher.
Do the one-minute search test before you hit the send button.
If you’re approaching a new contact via e-mail, take one minute to search her name on the Web. If there’s a wealth of information out there, and it’s easily discoverable within sixty seconds, then it’s likely the person will assume you already have that base knowledge.
Choose your subject line carefully.
Just as you can’t win a point in tennis if you can’t get the ball into play, you can’t network effectively if your e-mails don’t get past spam filters and the receiver’s delete button. Put succinct details about some connection (however slight) you might have, or clearly state your specific request.
Let your fingers do the walking over someone else’s keyboard.
Think about all the networking e-mails you receive, and make note of which ones you answer and why—and which ones you let slip through the cracks. Use this as a reference point for your own sending.
Your Online Portfolio (or Will the Real “You” Please Stand Out?)
Avoid online identity theft.
We’re not talking about the online theft of your bank account, but rather someone innocently co-opting your online image. It happens, especially if you have a somewhat common name. The best way to stand out from the crowd is to populate the Web with content by or about you. You also might consider using a nickname professionally or your middle initial. Both will help distinguish you from any online “twins.”
Build your online portfolio.
The more information you post online about yourself, the more you control what people find when they type your name into a search engine. Depending on your goals, online content can attract media attention, potential clients, headhunters, conference speaker coordinators or anyone you hope will find you online. Always remember that networking, online or offline, is not just about whom you know; it’s about who knows “what” about you.
One easy way to keep track of your online image is to set up a news alert. This is a service offered by almost all search engines where you can type in your name (or your company’s name) and whenever that name is mentioned on the Internet, the search engine will send an e-mail with a link to the site. Check out Google or Yahoo! for free offerings.
Social Networking (or You Are Who You Link To)
Think of LinkedIn and other social networks as an address book that updates itself.
With today’s transient population, sometimes e-mail addresses are the most consistent contact method. With social networks, the onus is on the members to keep their own information up to date.
Consider carefully whom you invite into your network.
You will be exposing your other contacts to that person. When in doubt, use the “dinner with friends” test. If you don’t know certain people well enough to invite them out to a dinner with your friends and close colleagues, then you might not want to invite them into your online network either.
Schedule social networking into your day. Just as you would leave the office for a coffee date, grab a cup of coffee, and spend twenty minutes exploring the different online networks right from your desk. Or, if you’ve already found the one you want to join, spend twenty minutes per week exploring the different functions or sending invitations to connect. As with in-person networks, you only get something out of it if you show up!
Blogging for Contacts (or How to Appropriately Lurk Online)
Meet the experts … online.
If you hear a great speaker at an event, check to see if she has a blog. People who run their own blogs, no matter how popular and famous, are often very free with their answers and responses when someone comments.
If you blog, befriend the competition.
Stop thinking of other blogs as competition, but instead, bookmark them as more resources to link to—and network with!
Pick an appropriate online alias.
If you’d like to remain anonymous, choose a username that is not easily identifiable to you. However, if a blog or message board is directly related to your business and you would want people reading your comments to locate you, it’s okay to use your full name. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you would feel comfortable putting your comment in the letters to the editor section of your local paper or business journal, then use your real identity. When in doubt, leave your real name out.
Always peruse before you post.
This is the final, most important online networking tip to remember. Each different platform, whether it’s a message board, blog, listserv, or social network has its own unwritten rules (although often on message boards, they’re even written down). Spend some time seeing how others operate (i.e., “lurk”) and you’ll be able to blend right in!
By Diane K. Danielson
Updated January 5, 2009