Networking is about face to face meetings as well as online activity through Twitter, LinkedIn or other social networking tools. Here are some basic tips for online networking that can help you build your network and ensure that you are a trusted, reliable and desirable person to know online. Skip to the end section if you would just like some tips on face to face networking.
Make sure your “about” or “bio” page on Linked In, Twitter etc. effectively and genuinely communicate who you are. Have a photo of yourself that is genuinely you – resist the urge to put your best wedding photo or a younger, sun-tanned you if this isn’t how you usually look. Also avoid putting pictures of yourself with other people as this is just confusing.
Don’t hide behind an anonymous account or a fake persona. This should help you to be careful and gracious in your interactions with people. Many people instinctively don’t trust anonymous or fake accounts on Twitter.
It’s not a bad idea to occasionally (not constantly) post something of a personal nature to your social media accounts, which can help your followers to connect with you on a more personal level.
While being genuine, if you are identifying yourself as an employee of an organisation, be aware that you will usually need to be agenda-neutral, apolitical and always respectful to protect the integrity of your employers.
Make sure all of your activities – your postings, comments, questions, pictures and videos – all reflect your professionalism and dedication to your field. Internet postings, even deleted ones, are available for ever more and can resurface at any time.
Imagine your boss is reading what you are saying, and your mum, and perhaps a child that you know. It’s okay to be passionate, to make a point or to stimulate discussion but the more cordial and measured you are, the better the response you will have.
Don’t be afraid to say something. Many people just re-tweet as a way to avoid ever thinking of anything to say or to avoid being seen to be taking a stance. Just choose your words carefully – often, asking a question with a news item you post is better than stating a point of view e.g. Could government do more to help students from deprived backgrounds? Or attribute the point of view to where it belongs e.g. School leaders are angry over cuts to LA support.
Think about what you have which is interesting or useful to someone else before you consider what it is that you want from other people.
Think about how you can help another person and don’t be afraid to offer your support.
To do this, you need to learn what interests your followers and remember or keep a note of it so you can reach out appropriately. Some people organise the people they follow into ‘Lists’. But remember the people you put into your lists can see what they are categorised under so name your lists carefully!
Consider how you might best serve your followers – could regular news items be something you could supply? Are you able to create a theme so that you are considered the go-to person for something in particular? Can you make yourself a valuable source for others online?
Identify some high-profile people you would love to get to know better or would love to take an interest in your work and target them for some special interest contact.
Be dynamic, proactive and regular
People lose interest in accounts that lie dormant for days and weeks and will unfollow accounts that don’t look like they are used much so make sure you don’t look boring to others.
If news items are your thing, think about starting each morning/week with some key updates that you think would interest others e.g. top items you have spotted in the education news.
Be proactive by posting new content, starting new discussions and contacting people within the communities you find interesting.
Seek to engage the members of your community with content that is relevant to them, by being both proactive and reactive with your activities. Be reactive by commenting on what others post or contacting people who post content of interest to you to continue the conversation.
You can add a fun regular element like Monday cats or #FF on Twitter but keep it tasteful and don’t overdo it.
Join online regular chats where you feel you would like to learn more and eventually contribute. These are organised by hashtag and often have a regular weekly slot like #UKEdChat or #UKGovChat on Sunday evenings
It takes time to build a following and it takes time to know who to follow. Make sure you give yourself time.
Set goals – x followers by x date – but remember quality over quantity should always be the rule.
Make time for networking – perhaps ten minutes each morning to check your feed and tweet some news items and then ten minutes in the evenings and one half hour regular chat slot a week is what you could work towards.
Keep your profile photo the same for as long as possible – that way people will recognise you more easily online and also if you meet at an event.
Network face to face
Make sure you attend relevant conferences and events and approach people face to face using the same principles of being genuine, helpful, cordial and so on.
Make sure you let people know on your network that you are going to be at an event.
Arrange to meet up with your online contacts for a coffee and a chat or to sit next to each other at a session.
Tweet from the event, Storify it or write it up as a blog post or LinkedIn update.
Don’t focus on the big names but don’t be afraid to connect with them and let them know what you thought about their talk, article, etc. Amazing things can happen if you dare.
Introduce yourself to people at conferences and events and you will see eventually, people will introduce themselves based on your profile.
Apply the same principles at conferences and events that you would online – be genuine, respectful, think where you can help others, be dynamic and proactive. Build in time to network.
Below are some handy tips for networking at events:
Go to events. Attend the popular and well-known ones but also challenge yourself to attend events that might not be your first choice e.g. go to an evening think tank event of an organisation you don’t know well or whose views you personally oppose, attend a more intimate situation like a TeachMeet or a debate.
Let people know you are going to be there. If you can make a shout out several times on Twitter, asking who is else is going, you can arrange to meet and chat with people directly while you are there.
Let your colleagues know you are going and see if there is anyone they think you should approach or look out for.
If you can get a guest list ahead of the event, actively contact people of interest prior to the event by email, on Twitter or via LinkedIn and say that you will be there too. Say that you would be interested in having a coffee and a chat or just let them know you will be glad to bump into them there.
Do the same with the speakers list if there are people there you would appreciate meeting with after their talk or you just want to be aware that you are there.
If you are going to the event with colleagues and people you know, split up. Don’t spend the day clustering together with people you already have a relationship with.
Build in time to actively network. Go to the coffee breaks and lunch breaks and join tables where people are that you don’t know. Don’t spend these times on your phone checking emails or catching up on work.
Look for people who could use someone to chat to and that are standing alone. Find groups of people standing around chatting and join in. Sit in the presentations next to people who you don’t know. At lunch hand the person behind you in the queue a plate, make eye contact and get chatting.
Introduce yourself to everyone you sit next to. Good conversation starters are often the simplest e.g. Have you come far today? Is anyone sitting there? Did you enjoy that session? Are you getting much from the day so far?
Ask questions of people you meet, take an interest, don’t be quick to say where you are from, who you represent, or to tell your own story before you have heard theirs. Think of some questions to ask other people to draw them out and find some connections in common.
Take business cards with you. Set yourself some goals of how many cards you would like to relieve yourself of and to whom. Don’t be shy, just say, it was nice talking to you, here’s my card.
Ask for business cards when you get chatting to people. Write on the back of them in two sentences what you chatted about and why they might be useful/interesting in future. It’s important to do this as you won’t remember later when you need to follow up.
Follow up. Once you get back home or to the office, send an email to each of the contacts you have details for and/or tweet them. Follow them on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn. Say it was good to meet them and perhaps send them a link to something relevant to your discussion – remember to think of ways you can help others before you ask for help from them.
Wait after a speaker has delivered their presentation and approach them to say thank you and to ask a further question of them. Give them your card and ask for theirs.
Visit trade stands. Speak to people on them, both traders and other people visiting the stands. Assess what sorts of things are being developed, traded, gaining popularity. Give them your card, take theirs. Enter competitions, you may even win a bottle of champagne or an ipod shuffle.
Ask a question to a panel – introduce yourself clearly, the name of your organisation and state your question. It doesn’t have to be a ‘clever’ one but it should be concise. You could ask something generic like “I was interested when you spoke about x, could you say a little more about that?” It’s a great way to get people to recognise you afterwards and to get your name and that of your organisation heard.
Tweet during the event. At the end, you might want to Storify your tweets to make it easier for people to follow the narrative of the day.