Networking will forever be the lifeblood of a professional’s career. No matter how old you are, what year it is and what technology is used, networking will continue to affect an individual’s professional growth, in addition to skillset and experience.
Not to mention, networking can help you land a job, earn a promotion, perhaps introduce you to your future co-founder and help you remain a valuable asset to your employer and industry.
In my own career as a tech writer and marketer, I’ve been lucky enough to grow by leaps and bounds writing for Forbes, Huffington Post, Mashable (and of course, The Next Web). There are many factors that contribute to my progress, but networking would have to be one of the biggest.
One of the most impactful networking moments that helped advance my career was in 2011 when I wrote a story for AllFacebook about successful apparel brands active on Facebook. After publishing the article, a staff member from one of the brands I mentioned, Marc Eckō Enterprises, reached out to me to thank me for the mention and to start an ongoing relationship.
After cultivating that relationship for some time, the company eventually hired me to help lead its social media, SEO efforts and other marketing needs. This incredible opportunity was the result of effective networking online that many can duplicate.
Technology today allows anyone to scale networking efforts more successfully at greater speeds than ever before with the use of Meetups, LinkedIn, blogging, videos, Twitter chats, Google Hangouts and more.
Don’t forget that these tools should be used in conjunction with networking offline as well, since they help add to your in-person interactions that are often the most effective at generating a strong bond with your contacts.
It’s all about creating a large quality network of contacts you can rely on, and who can rely on you. Quality and quantity are important attributes of networking, which are quite difficult to achieve but entirely possible once you’ve tapped into the right amount of hustle. Don’t sacrifice the quality of your contacts for the quantity, but find the happy medium.
Here are some strategies to best use the tools available today to network with other professionals in your industry and beyond.
1. Become a LinkedIn powerhouse
LinkedIn is the most successful professional social media channel for networking with like-minded people and it’s important that you take advantage of its helpful features. Once you’ve set up your LinkedIn profile and filled it out to its fullest, start connecting with other professionals of interest.
The key to getting your LinkedIn invitations accepted is to personalize the message you’re sending. This is obviously time consuming, but it’s more effective and personal to the connection you’re making.
Taking the extra few seconds will go a long way towards building a relationship with your new connection. Introduce yourself in the note, explain how you’re connected, what you have in common, what you’d like to achieve from connecting and any questions you might have for your new contact.
Join LinkedIn groups related to your industry and actively participate. Share content and answer the questions of other group members both publicly and privately.
Many are unaware that you can message LinkedIn users that you aren’t connected with as long as you are both members of the same group by clicking on the little black arrow near their post in the group.
Answer questions publicly first, then message privately with a more extensive answer and to let them know you’re willing to help again in the future, if needed. By continually providing value to other LinkedIn users in your industry through this tactic and others, you’ll slowly be able to build meaningful relationships and expand your network of contacts.
2. Find job openings, make contacts and learn with Meetups
The best part about all the online tools at your disposal is that they can help foster offline meetings with online contacts. Meetup is one of the more effective networks for connecting professionals who share similar career interests.
Start by joining multiple Meetups in your area that match your expertise, industry and most important, where you want to meet the right contacts. I’d suggest joining Meetups that other industry experts are members of as a good indicator of their quality, while also signing up for a few on your own to see what they’re worth and what type of networking events they typically host.
Join multiple Meetups to test the waters and attend their events to find the best networking value. I’m the member of 14 Meetups here in New York; they’re all related to content, social media, marketing and technology.
I don’t attend the events of all these Meetups, but I’m able to pick and choose which ones meet my schedule and pique my interest in terms of which panel discussions are occurring, what type of presentation is happening and who will be at each event.
3. Meet someone new every week
To effectively scale your network and remain valuable in today’s ever-changing economy, strengthen your network by meeting someone new online every week.
Find these potential connections across social media by searching on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and elsewhere for like-minded people who you think will bring value to you and your network.
There’s always room to demonstrate genuine interest in others when building your network, says Mika Salmi, the CEO of creativeLIVE, and this notion will only help fuel the success of your daily outreach.
Use social media to foster this concern with others by complementing, thanking and being genuine with your network as you continue to expand and meet new people online.
In some cases, a full-fledged introduction might not be appropriate with certain contacts and in that instance, interact with them with a lower-risk action like commenting on their Facebook posts, sharing their LinkedIn posts to add your own commentary, re-tweeting their posts to slowly gain their attention, and build rapport by simply telling them they’re doing a great job at what they do.
Find other people tweeting, sharing content and participating in discussions about topics of interest and proceed to find their contact information. That can mean connecting with them on LinkedIn with a personal note, tweeting them to ask if they’ll DM their email address, adding them as a friend on Facebook or to your Google+ circles.
These introductions don’t need to be high impact, but meaningful and personalized to catch the interest of potential new contacts.
4. Create content at scale
According to branding expert Dorie Clark, it’s critical that you become known for your ideas and are willing to contribute to the conversations happening in your industry by creating valuable content.
As a speaker, consultant and writer for Forbes and the Harvard Business Review, Clark is an example of her very own advice. You can grow your network by conveying your value and worth as a professional by writing articles, creating videos, sharing information across social media or using other media channels.
In my career as a writer and marketer, I’ve written for numerous tech and advertising publications about industry developments, news and how-to guides. That level of visibility within my industry, along with consistent contributions to the overall conversation, has been invaluable.
Creating content put my byline in front of relevant people in my industry, which has helped me build a personal brand and a network of lifelong professional connections.
Not everyone should be a writer—or even likes writing—but as a professional, it’s important that you find your ideal medium. That will help you deliver your perspective online to help foster bonds with your existing and future connections.
If you’re eloquent, think about publishing your own audio books, starting a podcast or publishing YouTube videos to regularly contribute your professional point of view.
As Anita Newton, Adknowledge VP of marketing states in her recent post, the topic of reinvention is incredibly important because career paths are less like a ladder and more like a trampoline.
In today’s job marketplace, it’s critical that you distinguish yourself from your competition, and one way of doing so is by creating original content on a regular basis.
5. The economy of favors is endless
When networking, it’s always best to give more than you receive. You’ll feel better about yourself, see better results and build stronger relationships over time since you aren’t always looking for something immediate in return.
Perform favors in various forms to offer value to your existing network, as well as new connections.
Here are some of examples of the types of favors that help build your network:
- Introduce members of your network to one another via email or Twitter.
- Recommend your connections on LinkedIn, don’t just use Endorsements
- Re-tweet and Tweet the original content of others in your network, mentioning them
- Feature members of your community as guest bloggers on your blog
- Send a thank you note in the mail to stand out as truly appreciative
- Share the content of others across LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and elsewhere
- Interview members of your community and feature them on your blog or other publications
- Invite members of your network to be guests on your Twitter chat, Google+ Hangout, etc.
Try your best to perform one of these favors once a day, or a few times a week, to provide unparalleled value to your network of contacts. It’s an effective way of nurturing your relationships with existing contacts and a way of building an ongoing rapport with new professional connections.
Networking is a non-stop commitment that takes a long time to pay off, but in order to reach that point, you’ll have to be fully committed to supporting your network and each individual relationship.
With an ever-changing landscape for marketers, it is as important as ever to stay up to date on the latest technology, tools, companies and developments affecting your industry. Your network is an ongoing resource to help you stay relevant with the collective knowledge, support and expertise of your contacts.
How do you network with others online and offline? What tools have you found most effective?
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.