Are We Still Networking in the Social Media Age?

4 10 2011

Networking is the process of building and maintaining mutually beneficial (reciprocal) relationships with others, whether it be for friendship, sharing a common cause, business development, other.  In the new world of social media where the tools seem to be replacing the real relationships, how do we continue to network and truly “relate” with one another?

First, we must recognize that social media sites and tools are not to be used “instead of” real relationships, but to “enhance” our relationship building and maintaining process.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. provide us with the opportunity to “connect” with people we know, people we used to know, and people we don’t yet know.  However, to add connections and not ever follow-up with them is not building relationships – it is just collecting connections.

For example, I have more than 1500 direct connections in LinkedIn.  Many of my connections are people I have known throughout my life, and LinkedIn provides a place where I can keep track of and keep in touch with these people, whether they be clients, former clients, referral partners, former co-workers and college alums, attendees at my presentations/workshops, etc.  I check the activity of my connections from time to time, and then reach out to them.  At the same time, I have many connections who have invited me to connect, and then I never hear from them.

I use LinkedIn, especially, to keep in touch with my connections, and to seek out new individuals with whom I look to develop a business relationship.  I learned a long time ago, that “you never know” how and when a business relationship will develop and how and when you and they will benefit from the relationship.  When I started recruiting, I placed some new candidates immediately.  Many others, I didn’t place for  years – 5, 10 and even 20 years later!  And, many others, I never placed, but I stayed in touch with them throughout.  I shared information and advice with them, they hired candidates from me, and they referred their friends and colleagues.

So, how can we utilize these new social media tools to enhance and support our relationships?  These social media tools provide opportunities to find others with whom we share common backgrounds and interests, as well as common connections.  After connecting with them on the site, the process starts with reaching out to them.  It involves keeping in touch with them.  It means using the telephone and email.  It includes meeting for coffee or lunch.  It means looking at their profiles, and reaching out to say “hello”, touch base and ask them how they’re doing, or congratulate them on a new job, a new venture.  It means doing all the same things we used to do.

We want to be careful and not think that an occasional “Like” or “Comment” is relationship building if that is all we are doing.  Posting our blogs, promoting our wares, or just “connecting” is not relationship building either if that is all we are doing.

A couple of weeks ago, I connected with two new people in LinkedIn, followed up with an email and/or phone call, and then met for coffee with each of them.  What will become of these new relationships, I do not yet know.  However, I was using LinkedIn as the introductory tool, and not the entire relationship tool, and now we have become acquainted with one another, and we will look for opportunities to continue to build the relationship.

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc., provide wonderful opportunities for us to make connections with people with whom we otherwise might never have run across.  So, take advantage of these social media tools and build quality relationships as “you never know” what might be…  Happy networking 🙂

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