How to “Do” Online Social Networking


by Tom Melander

Hey Tom, there’s a party online, and you’re not invited

 

In 2003, my BFF of 20 years, Dave, told me about an invitation he received to a new networking website called LinkedIn. As he described it, LinkedIn was where professionals invite their most respected contacts and colleagues into their network in order to keep track of one another and share their inside connections. It all sounded very exclusive, so I waited for him to send me an invitation to join his network. And waited. The invite never came. Finally, I figured out that I didn’t need an invitation. I could just go to www.linkedin.com and register as a user to start building my own network. If you’re not a user yet, here are a couple of resources to learn more about getting started on LinkedIn for yourself: LinkedIn Learning Center and About Linked In.

 

 

 

Who to invite? Three ways to think about Networking

 

LinkedIn uses the phrase, “Your professional network of trusted contacts,” and that sums up its philosophy. But I’ve notice three distinct approaches to networking. Let’s call them open, social, and professional networkers. Each approach has pros and cons.  

 

Open networkers invite and connect to anyone who will accept or extend an invitation. Their contacts aren’t limited to friends and colleagues—they’re anyone. Open networkers frequently have 500+ contacts. This approach to networking can be very useful, but it also means that your network is wide open. If these are all “trusted contacts,” open networkers are very trusting.

 

Social networkers connect to people they have met and liked either socially or in business. This describes my network. As a career and workforce development consultant I find myself “talking shop” in many social situations. These conversations often lead to LinkedIn invitations.

 

Finally, there are professional networkers who mainly connect only with business associates and professional colleagues. These folks, like my friend Dave, keep their connections highly relevant to their profession. Being connected in this way becomes an implied recommendation because you are a trusted professional contact.

 

There are advantages and disadvantages to all three types of networking styles. Being an open networker means you cast the widest net possible, so while you get lots of contacts and information, not all of it is going to be relevant to you. If you are a social networker, your list of contacts is customized so that they’re all relevant to you, but some of them are business acquaintances and some are friends. You may have to sift through your contacts depending on your purposes, and remember that anything you say online can be viewed by both groups. And professional networkers have a narrower focus. They’re likely to gain access to exclusive, but purely professional, contacts and information.

 

 

Choosing the right tool for the job

 

LinkedIn is not the only spot to network online. The two most popular sites for networking today are LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn is primarily used for open or professional networks, and Facebook is for finding and keeping up with friends. That said, Facebook seems to generate more lively discussions than does LinkedIn, even on business topics, and many companies and professionals have fan pages to feed the conversations. So it would seem that our social and professional boundaries are fading. Think of Facebook as your casual Friday water cooler conversation, not strictly business, but keep it appropriate. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want the boss to overhear.

 

 

Let’s talk

 

What’s your philosophy? Do you fit into one of my three online networking types? Have you ever had to un-friend or un-link with someone for obnoxious behavior? What’s best thing that you’ve ever been able to accomplish because of your online networking?

 

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

-Tom

3 thoughts on “How to “Do” Online Social Networking

  1. Nancy August 2, 2010 / 7:20 pm

    I enjoyed your post, Tom! I am a “developing” online networker (a relative latecomer), but my intentions would put me in your professional networker category. My preference is to use LinkedIn to connect with my colleagues, and so far I have politely declined invitations to connect with clients. While my number of contacts is fairly small, I feel that they will be longer lasting because we share many interests and concerns.

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  2. Tom Melander July 29, 2010 / 6:56 pm

    After I posted, I spoke to a coworker who has over 800 contacts on LinkedIn. When I asked whether she knows them all, or she was an open networker, she said, “Of course I know every last one of them, I’ve just been around a long time.” Ya know what, I believe her. She started using Linked In to keep track of her contacts current business email addresses. As a training and development professional, she has made contact with hundreds of people over the years.

    Like

  3. Denise July 28, 2010 / 2:41 pm

    Good info, Tom.

    I am a “social networker” on LinkedIn. It helps me to connect my friends to potential job opportunities and to make stronger, more personal connections with my business colleagues.

    One of LinkedIn’s bests features is its groups where like-minded people can share resources (including job leads) and discuss industry trends.

    While Facebook’s business uses are growing, I choose to use it strictly for personal, causal communications. When a potential business contact asks to be my friend on Facebook, I usually decline with the suggestion that we connect on LinkedIn instead.

    There is no right or wrong way to use the different social networking options out there, but the general rules of etiquette one would use in traditional networking still apply to these online forums.

    I’m curious to hear how LinkedIn has helped others in their careers.

    Denise

    Like

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