Professional networking is not what it used to be. What was once confined to the world of networking events and lunches has now grown to encompass the vast and multifaceted world of digital communications. That being said, some principles have remained the same and others have been entirely redefined.
Being successful in today's world of networking, regardless of whether you're using it for career opportunities, clients, or just new perspective, requires careful attention to etiquette and a refined approach. Take these seven tips, for instance, which can help you succeed in any context:
1. Don't neglect in-person networking. Social media platforms have made modern networking faster, easier, and wider reaching, but social platforms aren't the only mediums you should be using. Go out and meet people at formal events, and in other places where you expect to find professionals. Not everybody has a LinkedIn profile, and even if they did, not everyone would use theirs to network actively. Take advantage of the opportunities that in-person networking can offer, including using body language and eye contact to make a bold first impression.
2. Choose the right platforms. There are dozens of different social media platforms out there, and you need to know which ones work best for your situation. If you're looking for career opportunities or B2B connections, LinkedIn is probably your best bet. If you're more about casual professional acquaintances and a generally wider circle, Facebook or Google+ might be better. If you're into content marketing and want to scale an audience quickly, Twitter might be your best option. Choose your platforms carefully, and don't be afraid to drop one if it isn't working for you.
3. Emphasize quality over quantity. Because many platforms have numerical measures of your popularity (friends, followers, connections, etc.), it's tempting to try and build your numbers up as quickly as possible. But remember that 10 connections who truly value you are far more valuable than 1,000 connections who barely know you. Make sure each new connection in your professional circle has a solid foundation with you.
4. Be open to new opportunities everywhere. Not as many people attend professional networking events in person due to the prominence of online networking, but don't limit yourself to just networking events. Learn to start up conversations everywhere you go to meet new people--in coffee houses, at bus stops, or even on the street. Be open to new opportunities anywhere, and make it a habit of reaching out to strangers.
5. Use multiple platforms to connect. Don't alienate your contacts by stranding them in one medium or platform. If you met someone at an in-person networking event, be sure to connect with them online too. If you met someone online, make it a point to schedule a face-to-face visit. It will give you a chance to show off every side of yourself, and will help establish a real relationship--not one confined to any one set of circumstances.
6. Give favors before asking one. This is critical. I see too many people on LinkedIn and other platforms introducing themselves and then immediately making a sales pitch or asking for a favor. Doing this is a sure way to turn off the vast majority of your new connections. Instead, go out of your way to offer some kind of favor to your new connections--even something as small as a recommendation. They'll remember that when you do need a favor from them.
7. Be personal. Write and speak each of your messages uniquely and personally. Make time and take effort to show your contacts and connections that you really care about them and value them. It's too easy to lose this personal touch in the digital age--don't let it happen to you.
Apply these tips to your own personal networking strategy, and in a matter of days, you'll start to see some improved momentum. Depending on what your primary goals are, you may find that one or more of these tips work better than the others; be sure to refine your approach over time, and don't be afraid to change things up. You never know when or where you'll meet the person who can change your career for the better.