Networking online is a great way to connect with people who can help your career. The internet offers powerful ways to expand and stay in touch with your network, search for job leads, and prepare for job interviews.
Online networking opportunities include:
- Social sites or apps
- Professional networking sites
- Blogs and online communities
- Live video events
- Other forms of online presence
When you network online, you may have to deal with distance, different time zones, and some people’s tendency to ignore digital contacts. Follow these guidelines to improve your online networking:
Strategize—Decide on a direction for your networking goals, such as assessing the contacts you would like to have.
Communicate professionally—Texts, emails, and comments on social media sites are often casual. But in job search and career planning, you will appear more professional when you:
- Keep messages short and not too personal. For example, saying “Enjoy your weekend” is fine but stop short of sharing your own weekend plans.
- Don’t use emoticons (made with punctuation marks), emojis (little pictures), or internet shorthand (such as LOL, LMK, and BTW). And avoid using multiple sentence-closing marks for emphasis (!!! or ??? or ?!). Also, many people read all capital letters as though you are SHOUTING.
Persist—Networking online allows you to cast a wide net and choose the work-related contacts you want. But you may have to connect with many people before you find strong networking partners, so stick with it.
Respond—Always respond to requests or acknowledge messages you receive. Ghosting (not responding) is considered rude.
Say thank you—Online networks may seem impersonal, but business manners are important. Send a thank-you message to those who help you.
Email is a great way to stay in touch with friends, relatives, and acquaintances. You can also email to reach potential employers or activate contacts. Consider these thoughts on email networking:
Ensure you have permission—Don’t email a person you don’t know unless they’ve made their address public in a discussion group, article, or website. Never use an email address you acquired without that person’s consent.
Research—Visit the organization’s website, find the person’s name, and research their background. Learn more about them before you contact them.
Explain—In your first email, tell them how you got their address and share what you have in common.
Be specific—State your reason for contacting them. Are you commenting on something they posted? Do you want an informational interview? Clearly identify your “ask.”
Write a concise subject line—Show that your message isn’t junk mail by:
- Stating a purpose rather than asking a question.
- Avoiding exclamation marks and all capital letters.
- Keeping the word count to 5 words or fewer.
Send from an appropriate address—If you’re asking job-related questions or commenting on a professional post, sending from your work email may give you credibility. However, if your email says you are looking for a new job and your current employer may have access to your emails, use your personal address.
Social media apps are a good way to stay in touch with your contacts and making new ones. However, using social media professionally can be tricky. Consider these ideas for making a good digital impression:
- Use your privacy settings to control who has access to specific areas of your profiles.
- Use a professional digital photo in your profile.
- Research the people you are interested in connecting with.
- Follow people you are interested in. You may have to submit “follow” requests and get approved first.
- Comment on posts rather than “liking” or using an emoticon, emoji, or internet shorthand. Your comment could lead a person to realize that you may be the ideal candidate for a job or business opportunity.
- Create goodwill for yourself by linking (introducing) others to someone they may find helpful in your network.
- Accept invitations only from contacts you have researched or are contacts of your contacts.
- Like and share information about organizations or causes you support. If they’re related to your job interests, that’s even better.
- Create posts or share links that show you in a positive light. Even if you don’t use a social site to network, potential employers may visit your profile and read your posts and comments.
- Tell your online contacts about jobs or events that you think will interest or benefit them.
- Join private or public groups related to the work you want or interests you share. You never know which who may know or work for an employer you are interested in.
- Take part in question-and-answer communities. Your questions or answers may catch the eye of people in your field who can help you.
If you enter “professional networking sites” into your search engine, a range of websites, such as LinkedIn, will pop up. They’re like social networking sites, but they focus on business. Your profile works like a digital resumé or business card. It allows you to communicate directly with your contacts or offer public posts. Consider these suggestions when creating profiles:
Set up your profile as you would a resumé.
- Use the same professional digital photo for all online networking activities.
- Include information, such as past employers and schools you attended, that will help you connect widely.
- Set the security for your profile so as many people as possible can see it.
- Update and check your profile regularly, such as after you’ve completed new training or volunteer projects.
- Learn how to research and use keywords to help search engines find you.
- Use the job match or recruiting function if the site has one.
Create your network or contact list.
- Start with your current contacts. Include friends and family, present and past co-workers, former classmates and instructors, and fellow volunteers. Let them know what you are looking for.
- Read potential new contacts’ profiles and some of their posts to get a feel for them.
- Look for and join virtual business groups, professional associations, and alumni groups.
- When you make a follow or membership request, include a short message such as: “I really enjoyed your webinar today on...”.
Communicate with your contacts.
- Add meaningful comments to their posts. Writing “Your comment really spoke to me because…” will make a better impression than “Can you connect me to useful contacts?”
- Maintain your presence by regularly adding and sharing posts and making comments.
- Once you make a contact, ask them to share your profile with their network with a note of introduction. This makes it their contacts’ choice to get in touch with you and allows you to meet people through a mutual contact.
- Introduce contacts in your network to each other if they have something in common but ask permission first. This way you’re offering them something of value and making yourself memorable.
Many people use blogs, forums, mastermind groups, or discussion groups to share information, ideas, and opinions. Follow these suggestions for taking part in online communities:
- Look for blogs on potential employer websites.
- Join virtual business groups, professional associations, and alumni groups. Your request to join may require approval from an administrator. You may have to answer questions before you are accepted as a member.
- Spend some time “lurking” (reading without commenting) to get a feel for the blog or group before you post, comment or ask questions.
- Learn and follow the group rules provided. Your post or comment may be removed if it doesn’t follow the group’s guidelines.
- Start by asking intentional and thoughtful questions.
- Stay on topic.
- Double-check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar before hitting send or enter. Errors do matter.
- Get your contacts’ permission to share their contact information with others. They’ll appreciate the chance to grow their networks and remember you if you approach them down the road.
- Use tags (search terms), keywords, and job titles to improve your blog’s search status.
- Create and manage your own blog or mastermind group.
Events such as conferences, job fairs, and webinars are ideal for networking. Many encourage you to create a profile with your digital photo, contact information, and social media links. The following tips will help you make the most of live events:
- Consider getting involved in online charity or community events to broaden your network.
- Be on time. Don't be remembered for the wrong reasons.
- Act, dress, and present yourself professionally at all times.
- Wherever you connect from, sit away from activities that may distract you or others.
- Enhance your video appearance with the room lighting, items behind you, and how you’re positioned (distance and angle) in relation to your device’s camera.
- Research the sponsors, companies, presenters, and delegates ahead of time.
- Plan the timing of private messages in the chat function to ensure you’re not disrupting the person if they are actively listening or participating in the session.
- Take notes on the presentation or chats, especially if you won’t have access to a recording later. Notes will help you prepare for follow-up networking when you connect later.
- Exchange contact information. Most presenters share their email address or website in their presentation.
- If you have control of your microphone, mute yourself when you are not talking to avoid distracting others.
- Make your participation memorable when you have the chance to speak.
- Treat the participants as you would at an in-person event.
First impressions can become lasting impressions. Remember that others are observing you. Brush up on online etiquette with these suggestions:
- Watch tutorials on how to use online software and features.
- Prepare yourself just as you would for an in-person meeting.
- Start getting comfortable seeing yourself live on camera.
- Develop an “elevator pitch” or standard introduction for yourself.
- Use courteous and respectful language.
- Strengthen your overall media presence by liking and commenting on items that relate to your goals.
- Create your own live video events.
- Consider the pros and cons of the “add comments” feature because you can’t control the negative comments you may receive.
- Be sure that every aspect of your online presence represents you in the best possible light.