Here's a post from one of last year's CFC attendees, Brad Norlin, on what he sees as the potential pitfalls of the latest trend: online social networking.
If you thrive at offline social networking, services like LinkedIn and Facebook can be great tools to supplement your in-person activities. However, poor offline habits can translate into activity that may be online, but is only vaguely social, and not networking at all. Beware of these three comfort-preserving myths that can hinder your efforts:
Myth #1: A Profile = A Presence
If you’re hoping to attain networking nirvana through a profile alone, you may spend more time padding your profile with “action verbs” than you’ll actually spend networking. Instead, focus on how you build a web presence that will draw people’s attention after you have finished your profile. Whether you offer expert opinions or join forums, make sure to give people a reason to come see you. This reminds current contacts of your expertise, and can attract future contacts and clients. As an added bonus, some contributions also appear on search engines, which will help you stick out should a potential client search for candidates’ names as part of their selection process.
Myth #2: Lots of Contact Information = Lots of Contacts
The temptation does not end once you break out of “my profile is enough” complacency. Egged on by an empty contact list, you may be tempted to send invitations to everyone you have ever met. This tactic might cause your list to grow exponentially. But take a step back from the euphoria for a moment to ask yourself, “How many of these people do I really know?”
While you shouldn’t restrict your contact list to your closest friends and relatives, make sure you would feel comfortable introducing or recommending these contacts to someone else. If you’re not comfortable doing this for a particular contact, the feeling (or lack thereof) is probably mutual. If enough relative strangers make it into your contact list, you’ll end up with the digital equivalent of the collection of business cards lining the bottom of your desk drawer.
If your list is already populated with a lot of people whom you hardly know, you may think about simply cutting them from your list. Since most services allow you to prune under a shroud of secrecy, you could cut a few branches and no one would be the wiser. But before you break out the shears, consider sending out a quick note reintroducing yourself to some of your weakest connections. You may open the door to making those weak connections some of your strongest.
Myth #3: Notifications = Relationships
Online social networking makes it easy to keep your contacts posted on what’s happening in your life or career by alerting them every time you change your profile or post to a public forum. It can be tempting to leave it at that, but networking is about forming connections, and automatic updates are a little like saying, “Have your people call my people.”
Automatic notifications are a great way to quickly inform your entire network about awards, bold career moves or company expansions; but supplementing them with personal notes to specific contacts can be a great way to start conversations and find out how other people in your network are doing. Similarly, use other people’s updates as springboards to conversations by sending quick words of congratulations or support as notifications appear. Quick notes demonstrate your interest in someone as a person rather than just a “connection.”
All of this may seem like common sense, but if you stay within your comfort zone it’s easy to forget that networking is about connecting with people, not just their profile photos. Online social networking offers a great tool to build and maintain your network, but it’s only meant to incite personal contact–not replace it.
Brad Norlin is a graphic designer working in the Chicago area.