A strong network is important in today’s connected world. Having the right connections gives you credibility and allows you to interact with peers, customers as well as potential employees. Today it is hard to imagine that companies would offer you a job without checking your LinkedIn profile. Your standing in your industry is increasingly determined by your profile and network on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube.
Admittedly, I have been quite late to the game of social media; however, what I have done seems to be working well for me and I am enjoying an ever-expanding and effective network. In the beginning I simply started posting, connecting, inviting and sharing, and today I grow my network by about 300 connections each day. To date, my network has generated many new business opportunities and helped me to connect with likeminded people.
When I started using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube about 2 years ago my intention was to simply build a network and engage with people in my field of enterprise performance management, analytics and big data. Let me share with you some of the lessons and tips which I hope you will find useful. These are not ‘rocket science’ and won’t require you to spend hours on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn each day. I probably spend less than about an hour a week on building my network and feel it is time well spent.
- Choose the right networks – the landscape of social media platforms is changing every day and new platforms emerge. When I started I picked LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube because they seemed to be the most popular ones and because they make it easy to share content (with share buttons on so many websites etc). There are others that might be useful if you operate in more creative industries. For example Pinterst is an emerging platform that allows you to tag and share images. I am looking at it at the moment but I haven’t used it yet. From my own experience I find LinkedIn and Twitter to be the most effective for a business network. On Twitter I have now over 50,000 followers and on LinkedIn about 35,000 connections, while my Facebook page lags behind with only about 3,000 likes or so.
- Tell people who you are – Remember that potential employers, customers and peers will check you out and you have to make sure your profile looks as professional as possible. First of all have a complete profile with a photo that shows your face. I get many requests from LinkedIn members each day and I am much less likely to connect to anyone who has no profile picture. Also, create an interesting profile write up that stays away from cliches such as ‘self motivated, driven, and results orientated’ – these kind of phrases are so out-dated and meaningless (especially if they are coming from you on your own profile!). Make sure you concentrate on the relevant things and make a professional impression.
- Actively grow your network – For me networks like LinkedIn and Twitter are like giant networking parties and everyone is invited. Connecting here is a bit like the real world: Don’t be shy and stand in the corner, go up to people, introduce yourself and start a conversation, then exchange business cards and move on. What works well for Twitter is to simply follow people you find interesting and would like to connect with. I find that many of the people I follow will then follow me back – maybe out of politeness but hopefully out of interest! Simply type relevant terms into the profile search to find people in your industry. On LinkedIn it is similar only that people have to accept your request to connect. Again, search for people in your industry (using company names, profile key words, etc.) and then send them a customised invite. Stay away from the standard invite. The reason for this is that I get about 10 spam invitation a day – from fake spam accounts that want to place advertising on your up-dates or hack into your connections. Getting a personal invitation request with an explanation of why a person would like to join your network usually works and at least tells you that they are real.
- Say something interesting and often – it is not enough to simply create a great profile, you have to join the party and interact with people. The best way to do this is to produce regular up-dates (initially maybe once a day or a few times a week). This shows that you are active and engaged and soon people will realise that you have something interesting to say and you are an interesting person to connect with. Every day I read news feeds and online articles about my area of expertise and whenever I find something new or noteworthy I share it with my network. Most online publications have simple share buttons that allow you to keep your network informed. Try to stay away from making sales pitches, people will only follow you if you have something interesting to say. Another really good way to engage with like-minded people is to join and post on LinkedIn group discussions. Join as many of the relevant groups as you can and follow their discussions. Once you are comfortable with what is being said start commenting or posting. I find that 3-5 posts a day work best.
- Don’t mix private with business – Your business connections don’t really want to know what you had for breakfast, whether you had an argument with your spouse, or how many pounds you have lost (or gained) in weight this week. Even though it sometimes might be interesting, it is not professional. I find it difficult when people mix business and private. This can be a tricky balance and might mean you have to chose some networks for business and others for private. Another way is to set up different accounts – one for your private connections and another for your business contacts. This way you ensure you don’t send your business contacts embarrassing pictures from your last fancy dress party (even though this might be very funny). I use LinkedIn and Twitter purely for business. The normal Facebook I use privately and I don’t accept any business connections into it but use a Facebook page to connect with business people. That way they stay separate.
- Keep to an agenda – Remember that you are trying to build an effective network of people in your industry or area of interest. They will only follow you because you are interesting or have something interesting to say. So stay on your agenda. For example, I am interested in running and keeping fit but I wouldn’t write posts and up-dates the latest running shoe on my Twitter account. Don’t mix completely unrelated topics as this is likely to put people off. However, feel free to connect topics that are related. For example, I cover different angles of enterprise performance – from leadership, strategy, IT, human resources or business intelligence. Hopefully my audience will appreciate the different related angles. And if there is a story about managing performance in sports that is relevant to my audience, then I post it too.
- Measure your success – Finally, measure your success. The beauty of social media is that you can measure everything and you can test what is working and what isn’t. You can see how many people are reading your posts on different topics and you can learn from that. You can see how many people invited you to connect after specific posts and you can try different invitation texts to see which one gets the most connections.