We attend networking events with the hope of exchanging business cards with dozens of new colleagues but it’s hard to meet everyone and hold a meaningful conversation before the night is over. In-person networking events have long been the standard for forming connections outside the office but our communication methods are evolving so our views on networking must do the same.
LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook use cases go beyond remembering birthdays and sharing pictures of your cat. These sites connect you to people in your industry, your zip code, or with similar interests, making the term ‘social network’ particularly accurate.
Company websites are in the habit of linking to their official social media channels, which is a good place to start but there’s still some work to do on your end. When more than 1.4 billion people use social media around the world, you need to know how to find the most relevant groups and people with whom to network.
Twitter uses hashtags to categorize tweets by keywords. Searching for broad terms like #networking and #jobs or more specific industry keywords like #smallbusiness and #analytics gives you access to news, as well as contact information for people in your field.
LinkedIn markets itself as the world’s largest professional network. Besides connecting directly to co-workers and clients, you can join one of the millions of interest-based LinkedIn groups. Many of the larger ones break down into geographic subgroups so you can more easily connect with people in your area. You can also perform your own searches to find user groups or local chapters of professional organizations that relate to your field of interest.
When it comes to events and conventions, there’s a way to participate from your desk or couch. If you can’t attend a conference being held across the country, you can drop by the event’s Facebook group, search the unique hashtag, and join the conversation. Even webinars, which are already hosted virtually, are featuring custom hashtags to encourage additional conversations between attendees. If the event planners are making it possible for you to participate virtually through hashtags and hangouts, why wouldn’t you take advantage of that opportunity?
Don’t think of virtual networking as better or worse than its in-person counterpart; think of it as a complement to a tried-and-true method. Nothing can fully replace the personal bond when you meet someone face-to-face but being able to connect online, at any time of day or from any time zone, is a luxury we should all embrace to grow our professional networks.
About the Author
Madeline Kronfeld is a Social Communities Coordinator at American Public University System. She has more than five years of marketing and customer service experience and has worked for one of the nation’s leading non-profit healthcare organizations and leading BI software providers. Madeline is working toward her MBA in Marketing with AMU. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.