Building and Maintaining a Strong Online Network

how to build networks, social networkingInteractive designers tend to be early adopters who stay well ahead of the curve. But no matter how technically experienced and web savvy you are, there are still nuances to be aware of as you navigate the ever-evolving world of online networking. Follow these five rules to build a strong network:

Stay active

Make no mistake, tending to your digital life takes time and effort, but it’s important. In a recent survey by The Creative Group, executives said not keeping content fresh is the most common mistake creatives make in their professional online profiles. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or virtual design communities such as the HOW forum, consistency remains critical to maintaining a strong presence.

Keep your profiles current by adding content on a regular basis. Post career updates (like an award you won), link to interesting industry articles, pose questions that will spark discussion and thoughtfully respond to others’ posts. Even during stretches when you’re swamped, take a minute to check for messages or valuable contact requests waiting for you.

Live DesignCast

Ilise Benun will show you how to develop clients using LinkedIn on Thursday, March 15, at 2 p.m. Eastern (11 a.m. Pacific). She’ll use examples of her clients and other creative professionals who’ve found projects and other marketing opportunities on LinkedIn and show how you can too. Save your seat now!

Respect the rule of reciprocity

Online networking is a two-way street, so reaching out only when you need something won’t work. We all know people who are quick to put out pleas for job leads, recommendations, introductions or feedback, yet remain silent when others ask for the same.

The most effective networkers are responsive, reliable and resourceful. Aim to give as much as you take. If you call upon your network for assistance or advice, express your gratitude to those who took the time to help—and look for ways to return the favor. The goal is to show others that you’re sincerely interested in developing a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Don’t be slapdash

The more frequently people communicate online, the more unfiltered and careless they’re likely to become. But as we’re always reminded, the internet is an unforgiving public place, and it has a long memory. (For evidence, just google “social media fail.”) Don’t get too comfortable, because one lapse of judgment or errant mouse click can do real damage to your reputation. Think twice before publishing anything that could lead others (like future hiring managers) to question your professionalism and common sense.

Also, it’s worth it to put some safety nets in place. Along with proofreading every post, utilize the social network’s privacy settings. (Facebook’s are especially strong when it comes to targeting messages and separating friends from coworkers and the public.) Step away from the keyboard when you’re upset. Digital debris can be incredibly difficult to remove, so do yourself a favor and avoid creating any in the first place.

Realize it’s not a numbers game

More is better, right? Not always. While developing an extensive, well-rounded base of contacts is smart, some people seem to mistake online networking for a popularity contest. They aimlessly invite anyone and everyone into their network. It’s a misguided (and frequently off-putting) approach.

The truth is that quality trumps quantity. Having a hundred solid connections is more valuable than having thousands of  inauthentic ones. Moreover, be aware that if you make your contacts public, prospective employers could reach out to those individuals as references without your knowing it.

Be active offline, too

Finally, be mindful that online interaction should supplement—not replace—traditional face-to-face networking. Meet up with key members of your network for coffee or lunch. While the web provides an easy way to find new contacts or renew old ties, meaningful in-person interaction is key in solidifying relationships.

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