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The real social network

How smart networkers are using social media to make (and keep) great contacts and what you need to know to keep up

It’s easy to forget that platforms like Facebook started as something other than a place to post selfies and see what your ex is up to these days. If original Instagram filters are any indication, early social media users were less concerned with posting aesthetic pictures than with amassing a network of online “friends” – something that can still be done and used to your advantage. 

These days, most people attempt to grow their follower base for one of two reasons: either they’re trying to prove that they are, well, someone worth following, or they have not-so-secret dreams of becoming an influencer. But while a curated selection of online connections might not land you major brand partnerships, it can help you grow your personal network strategically. 

True networking is not just a face-to-face meeting with a new contact; the number one objective is to ultimately become a part of their network. In other words, the goal is to not only meet one person but to hopefully gain access to their network of contacts. The same holds true for social networking: through the power of social media, you’re able to make one connection that not only gives you access to their network of friends, but can allow you to reach a larger network of friends-of-friends, and “meet” people right from your desk.

Be where your contacts are

If you’re a social media-savvy person, chances are good that you have an account on almost every major platform. But if you’re looking to grow your professional network in a way that could result in real opportunities, spending hours engaging on TikTok when your most valuable connections are on Facebook and LinkedIn is a waste of time. Research which platforms your connections (or hopeful connections) use most, then build a strong presence there. Focus on one or two platforms at a time, because as with your connections, quality is more important than quantity. 

Avoid the hard sell

No one likes a bragger, especially online. So while it’s tempting to make several lengthy LinkedIn posts about your latest award, people will likely have the same reaction toward that as they would if you didn’t stop talking about said award at an in-person event. While you should make what you do (and why you do it) clear, overt self-promotion can be a serious turn-off. Instead, consider ways in which you can be helpful to people. Creating useful content and responding to posts is the best way to show your expertise. 

Don’t obsess about seniority 

The great thing about social media is that it allows you to connect with people who you might not otherwise interact with on a regular basis. But while people who are new to a company or industry often jump on the chance to follow their higher-ups, executives tend to think – and follow – laterally. While business owners may think that following their peers is the best way to advance their professional network, they miss out on a plethora of opportunities by not connecting with people who are earlier in their careers. Today’s managers are tomorrow’s CEOs and can offer valuable opportunities in the future. 

Practice good etiquette and grammar

Good etiquette and grammar are just as important online as they are off. That’s right: emojis should be used sparingly, if at all. If you want to portray yourself professionally, then don’t post anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable saying out loud at work. Office etiquette also applies to the digital space, which includes sending well-written connection requests on LinkedIn and following up with thank-you notes. 

Give it time

Most overnight successes didn’t happen overnight. It’s rare that an individual or company catches fire, collects thousands of followers, and becomes a social media star all within a day. Just as in traditional networking, developing an online network and creating brand interest takes time, but it shouldn’t take up all of your time. Social media is not the end-all-be-all for networking or marketing, though it’s a good start.

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