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Social Media for Networking & Beyond: Five Easy Steps to Getting Started

March 2, 2009

Recently I’ve been speaking with people who are just starting to explore social media, mainly for professional networking reasons related to career development. I’ve noticed a sense of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin, but also an uncertainty and trepidation of using social media, particularly around it seems too “weird” or “odd” to be sharing personal information about yourself so openly, particularly for in a business or career context. The concern mainly comes from mixing professional and personal relationships, but also just with a lack of familiarity and discomfort with the openness of social media. There’s certainly a whole discussion to be had around privacy concerns and becoming accustomed to being so open—which we’ll leave to another day—but, I thought I’d focus on sharing some thoughts on how to use social media to build your network for networking purposes (including career), mainly as a primer for those who are looking to get started:

1.  Establish your goals You should first think of what your goals are in using social media for your career. You could have many goals, but in general, I’d recommend focusing on two: 1) to remain educated on what is happening in your field and 2) to try to establish relationships with people. This second goal is for both career and personal reasons. Relationships is everything. Keep your goals simple and focused.

2.  Don’t be intimidated and evolve your participation level– Social media can be intimidating if you don’t know a lot about it, such as the names of sites, etiquette, unfamiliarity with technology, etc. That will all come in time. You’ll also run across some folks who like to pontificate or self-promote, which may rub you the wrong way. These folks are rare, but when you do come across them, just do what you’d do in the non-online world—ignore them. The point is not to let anyone or anything intimidate you, and to just jump right in. Since you’re just beginning, you’re going to want to take a gradual approach to becoming part of the conversation, and evolve over time. Start off first by listening. Listening is perhaps the most important thing you can do anytime with social media, but especially when you are just beginning. Listen to what people are talking about, which will allow you to then join in on the conversation, then finally by contributing original content. At this point, I’m going to focus on the listening and joining piece since this is a good place to get started.

3. Pick your tools– There are a myriad of different technologies and tools out there that you could utilize. It’s important to pick the ones that support your goals, but perhaps even more importantly, ones that you know that you will use. This will come with a little experimentation and experience, but in general, the ones you should focus in on to get started are:

  • RSS Reader An RSS Reader is a great way to organize content that you are interested in, and a fast and easy way to stay on top of what is happening in your field. There are lots of RSS readers on the market, but the one that I prefer and recommend is Google Reader. Not only is the interface really beautiful (comparatively speaking), it’s easy to use and manage. A good strategy is to subscribe to 5-10 blogs or news sources that interest you, and start off your day perusing through your subscriptions every morning (or whenever you have time). It will be easy to let your subscriptions get out of control, so be careful!
  • Social Network– Joining a social network is a fantastic way to begin expanding your network of contacts. Social networking is best if it’s focused on an interest or a group of people you have a lot in common with. For instance, if you’re into cloud computing or PR, tap into a social network focused on one of those interests. There are other social networks that serve as more of a general network, or a platform from which you can interact and network. Facebook is an example of this. For career networking purposes, I’d recommend getting onto Facebook as well as LinkedIn, as primers and places to begin. There is tremendous amount of advice out there on how to utilize these tools effectively.  A great place to start is with the video LinkedIn in Plain English and Social Networking in Plain English.  You’ll also want to sharpen your profile.  Guy Kawasaki does a good job explaining how to optimize your LinkedIn profile.
  • Microblogging– The most popular microblogging tool out there today is Twitter. Twitter has emerged as a fantastic way to network, mainly through tapping into and sharing information. Start off by making sure your profile is accurate, then following some people. Typically, around 50 people is a good start. Make sure they are people that you find interesting (you could always unfollow them). Once you start receiving updates, plan on joining the conversation by updating what’s on your mind, re-tweeting someone else’s tweet as well as replying or direct messaging people who have tweeted something of interest to you. Also, you should get used to the Twitter short-hand for many things. A good place for a primer is Twitter in Plain English.
  • Personal portal or social aggregator There is a massive amount of information and sites out there, and you don’t want to be spending your time logging in and out to all of them. Plan on utilizing a portal as well as a social aggregator to manage your information flow. I would recommend iGoogle or Netvibes as great portals where you can manage your social sites. iGoogle for instance, has gadgets for Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, as well as for your email, instance messaging, among others. Other social aggregators I like to use are Digsby, which I mainly use for my instant messaging and Twitter updates), and Tweetdeck (which I use to manage my Twitter stream). One of the huge benefits of the social aggregators is the ability to update your status in one place and have it propogate throughout your social networks. This makes life easier, particularly if you’re looking to remain active in multiple social networks.

There are certainly many other tools out there, but these are the basics you should focus on for getting started. As you evolve your participation level and get keen on creating video, blogging, co-creating wiki content, etc., there are lots of other options to explore. Also, I did not mention email and instance messaging since by this time most are already using both.

4. Participate and be consistent- Make social media part of your life. This will not only make it more useful and practical for you, but will also help you more quickly overcome any awkwardness (if any) you may harbor in using the tools. A good, simple way to get started in participating is to:

  • Read & share articles and blog posts in your Google Reader (as mentioned above). You may want to also comment on some blog posts, or forward them off via Twitter.
  • Listen. Listen to the Twitter stream from your followers, review the updates of your network in LinkedIn, and review the activity feeds of your friends in Facebook.
  • Update your status regularly in Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Try to update once a day to get started, starting at first with something about yourself, but then trying to share information on interesting articles or commentary that you have. Most people use Twitter to share information, and the more info you share, the more likely you will be seen as someone to pay attention to. One other thing to note: use your social aggregator to update your status to Twitter and Facebook. You should keep your status updates in LinkedIn focused on professional, job-related content only (most people there will not want to see your full activity stream)—which would justify keeping it separate from your updates you may make via your social aggregator to Facebook or Twitter.

5. Translate the online to in-person events- Try to tie off your online world with the real world. While using online media is great to establish connections, it doesn’t substitute for face-to-face networking, particularly for career purposes. Therefore, try to in-person events where your online connections may be so that you can meet them face to face and reinforce your relationship. On Twitter for instance, there are numerous ‘Tweetups’ that occur regularly, where Twitter connections get together to meet face to face for social and professional networking reasons. (For a list of Tweetups in the Boston area, visit Thomas Edward’s Tweetup Roundup.) On Facebook or LinkedIn many of the groups have social and professional functions, which is a great way for you to get out and meet people and network. Of course, there are in-person events planned outside of any of the social media tools. I have found EventBrite and Meetup.com good resources to link up with peers who share similar professional or personal interests, often which help in career networking.

There’s certainly many other facets to explore beyond what is covered here, but this hopefully will be a good primer to get you started.

Are there any things you have found helpful in getting started with social media for career networking & beyond?

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