The following is written by Campus Ambassador Ben Heyman. Ben is finishing up his Bachelor of Public Relations at Boston University. He has a high interest in consumer technology and social media and has a broad experience in communications studies.
Social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and network. It used to be that the only real way to network with folks outside of your daily circle was to go to formal networking events and meet people in person. Now, those kinds of formal networking events still have importance, but less so today with the Internet and social media. I can interact and “network” with people anywhere in the world on a daily basis using social media tools like HootSuite, people whom I probably never would have come across in my local circle. Does this mean I would ask these people for introductions or favors? Maybe. But not right away. Building a relationship takes time. Just because we can learn everything about a person without ever actually meeting them does not mean we are instantly friends and I can ask them for introductions or favors.
Networking has almost gotten too casual online. 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 speak to in real life. But I still understand that I need to build a relationship with them before I ask anything of them. As I was once told, networking is like flirting; you have to be careful to not be overly aggressive and pushy.
“Social media is a helpful way to enhance serendipity, but there’s no replacement for face-to-face.” – Todd Van Hoosear
Here are some lessons to keep in mind:
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 be contacting them on every channel. Where is the person most active? What platform makes the most sense, depending on what you are asking, to communicate with them? If you bombard someone with messages on every single channel, yes, they are probably more likely to see the message but 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. HootSuite is a great tool to monitor this activity. Of course it allows you to follow activity on many different social networks via one single dashboard.
HootSuite’s AutoSchedule function comes into play here as well. Rather than analyzing your Twitter followers to find when you can make the most impact, have HootSuite do it for you! Genius.
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 or whatever you are looking for in as few characters 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 and adding that line at the end of the message will only piss them off more. 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.
4. Give Space
This point is related to the one above; if you do not get a response back immediately, do not continue to send messages. Just because we now can contact each other 24 hours a day does not mean the only person is sitting there, hitting refresh waiting for your message. People are busy. Networking is time consuming and it sometimes takes a backseat, especially if it is 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 get you a response back. Again, it will just piss the person off and you probably won’t ever get a response back now.
5. Join the Conversation
Be active in the conversation and add value with your own comments and opinions. You’re more likely to attract peoples’ attention if they see you constantly jumping into the conversation with your own thoughts and comments. How do I keep up with the conversation? I create a stream in HootSuite of Twitter folks I admire or a search query I want to follow. That way I can monitor that conversation without getting distracted by my entire Twitter feed and can join in the conversation.
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 thing 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 or list them as a reference or beg them for a job. I am investing my time in building relationships with people with the hope that it will pay off in the future. I would not ask someone to marry me the first time I met them, would I?