Social media is a means for sharing information with, primarily, a broad audience. Anyone who has an Internet connection possesses the ability to create and send out information to the masses. Networking is an act of engagement between individuals who are linked to one another on a different level. Links may involve common interests, either personal or professional, but the communication is two-way. Back-and-forth communication forms the core of social networking. Through it relationships are built. Social media offers a means of transmitting messages; it simply delivers information “to” others.
The two-way communication of social networking enables strong, reliable connections. Social media, on its own, does not achieve this. It can take a lot of time and work to get individuals to communicate back through social media. This is not to say it doesn’t happen; it’s just that you will usually get a better response through social networking. So, even though social networking and social media may overlap, they are truly different. They should be used as separate tools to support your career development efforts.
The first step in developing your social network is to make a broad list of contacts you know. Obviously, the best place to start is family and friends, but it is important to not stop there. Next, go to classmates, co-workers, and colleagues — basically, anyone you have a connection with. Ever hear about someone getting an executive level job through the guy he got coffee from everyday? Such occurrences do sometimes happen. The barista knows someone who knows someone, and a link is made. Don’t discount a person just because he or she is not in your career circle. Expanding your social network does not mean using the computer. Of course you can use the computer as a tool, but just remember the difference between social networking and social media. The goal of building your social network is to use it to your advantage when researching information about a particular company or seeking employment. Use your network to gain leads. Remember that links do not have to be direct. Your neighbor’s yoga partner may have just opened a new company and need someone to develop their web presence. At times it can be that simple. The key is deciding to put the energy in to make it work.
To get your contacts organized, you can use a Rolodex card file or your home computer system. Many people list their contacts only on their mobile device or on their employer’s computer, but these tactics are not wise.
The hardest part of having a social network is, quite frankly, using it. It is a good idea to set some goals to use your network periodically to stay in contact either through phone calls or email and on special occasions. Most will use email, as it is the easiest, but remember not to follow what everyone else does. For example, if everyone is using evites, maybe you should do something a bit more personalized to stand out from the crowd.
Informational interviews offer another way to build networks, gain leads, and talk with professionals from your industry. Such interviews are with an employer, but not for any specific job opening. To do an informational interview, you first select organizations you are interested in. Do your research, and then contact them to see if they will grant you an opportunity to meet with them to learn more about the company. While there, you obtain important inside information about the organization and its practices, test out your interviewing skills, and add new contacts to your network.
When setting up your social network and developing your social media presence, you may run into questions regarding the division between the personal and the professional. There are a host of individuals who use social media outlets for both personal and professional purposes. Unfortunately, such mixing can lead to problems. Technology has led people to feel a constant pressure to be connected to what is going on in their personal circles at all times. However, the same thing is happening with professional circles. The smart approach is finding a balance between each and avoiding the pitfalls that commonly cause trouble. Many people convince themselves that they have social media outlets that are strictly personal and others that are professional. The truth is that media channels overlap, so this way of thinking will eventually cause problems, especially if social networking and social media are to play an active role in your professional career. It is better to understand what is at stake and use strict methods of staying in the middle of road. Only socialize in a manner that won’t lead to problems further down the road and which can be open to everyone. This is definitely a difficult issue to consider, but if you are serious about your career, it is important to develop an absolutely neutral image as it pertains to your social media presence. This way you do not have to worry about choosing sides or drawing a line between the personal and the professional.
One of the most popular social media tools for business is LinkedIn. It provides great ways to stay connected, broaden contacts, and answer questions. When setting up your profile, it is a good idea to use key words that will help people find you. LinkedIn keeps track of the number of times keywords appear in your profile. The more consistently you use your keywords, the better your ranking will be. With this in mind, you should use common keywords that people will use in a search to find you, especially in your headline right under your name.
At a minimum, you will want to complete your profile and summary in full. As you are putting together your profile, LinkedIn will tell you the percentage that you have completed. It is important to fill this out in its entirety. Do a search for other people in your industry to ensure that the industry keywords you selected for yourself will place you in a category among them. Also, if someone is trying to connect to you, they need to know your first and last name. You can give people an easier way to connect to you if you fill in the last name field of your LinkedIn profile using your last name and then your email address (e.g., LastName email@example.com).
If you are freelancing and are doing volunteer work or are playing an active role in a group that is industry-related, then it is a good idea to add all relevant projects or information and add in keywords for each of them. Getting recommendations for work that you have done is a good thing, if the sources are credible. If you don’t have any recommendations, don’t be afraid to reach out to individuals you feel can help build your professional presence.
The goal is to set up social media channels so that you maximize their benefits without investing a huge amount of time. If you do not take enough time to set them up properly, leaving your profiles with poor functionality and little depth, then you really can’t expect to get a whole lot out of them. What’s worse is when potential employers gain the wrong impression about you when they view your profile. It’s also a good idea to do a web search of yourself, since employers can easily do a similar search. If what comes up does not reflect on you in the way you’d like, then you might consider taking steps to improve the situation.
In sum, invest the time needed to clean up and strengthen your social media presence so that it reflects your professional profile in an appropriate manner and allows you the ability to cast a large net, build relationships, and seek out opportunities.