With global restrictions on real-life face-to-face interaction, there is no better time than now to start looking into how you can make the most out of networking online using social media platforms. Using social media effectively to network can yield amazing results for your career or your business. Social media platforms allow you to connect with your existing audience and create new connections, discover and discuss new ideas and trends, and share your work with a wider demographic. Understandably, if you are new to using social media and with so many different platforms to choose from it can be difficult to figure out where to start and how to make the most out of reaching out and meeting people online. You also need to be careful with what you share and how you use social media platforms in order to protect your privacy and make sure the new connections you are making are worthwhile.

Social Media Platforms

The two most widely used platforms for online networking are LinkedIn and Twitter. Linkedin is built for professional networking online, you want to make sure you are active on there and that your profile is 100% complete. Start by adding connections you already have in the real world, this will make your profile look more legitimate when adding people you do not know personally. Once your profile is complete, you should join LinkedIn groups as it is a good way to start interacting with people in your industry and creating new connections.

Twitter can also be a powerful and effective networking tool if used in the right way. By building a complete profile, and following relevant influencers, decision-makers and businesses in your industry, you may be surprised at how quickly you can build an online network by sharing your thoughts with like-minded individuals and joining in on relevant conversations. It takes time to build a strong profile with lots of followers, but by retweeting and starting discussions, you will start attracting the right people.

Lastly, Facebook deserves a mention. There are many engaged communities with Facebook groups and there are groups for almost every topic, definitely something which is worth looking into.

Privacy on Social Media

Do not share your personal phone number or your home address on any public platform. Considering most people’s personal preference as to which social platform they use to connect with others varies, one has to be prepared to be social media “examined” at any time. Think of how you would research someone you might want to work with. You might google them, look them up on Twitter, or search for their name on Facebook and then scroll through their posts and pictures. Anyone curious about you will do exactly the same. Any platform you intend to use for networking has to be strictly professional and any platform you intend to use for personal use has to be strictly private. On Facebook and Twitter, you can set privacy settings to make sure your profiles aren’t visible to everyone. Make sure that when people click on your professional profile they are able to get a good introduction to who you are and what you do in a professional sense, so they can make a quick and informed decision on whether to get in touch or follow you. A good exercise is to self-examine yourself every couple of months and ask yourself “would I want to work with this person?”

Social Media Etiquette

You must be careful not to tarnish your reputation or damage relationships while trying to widen your network. Everything you do on social media can and will be used against you. Here are a couple do’s and don'ts of social media networking:

Do's
• Do Keep your business and personal accounts separate
• Do Think about what you post (make sure it adds value in some way)
• Do Post consistently and interact with your network
• Do Think about how you could bring value to someone you reach out to
• Do send a welcome message when you connect with someone online
• Do follow relevant accounts

Don'ts
• Don’t post in all caps
• Don’t spam
• Don’t make spelling mistakes
• Don’t repeat posts and abuse hashtags
• Don’t force connections
• Don’t forget to reply
• Don’t say anything you wouldn’t be comfortable saying in real life

Social media is an extremely powerful tool and in today’s world, we have the luxury of having hundreds of different platforms at the tip of our fingers that we can join and dive into. Whatever you’re interested in, take the time to explore the web and find your community on each of these platforms. Connect with others - they will know things you maybe don’t yet. It is, however, important to remember how you present yourself on social media. You need to be mindful of what you post, and who can or can’t see it. Don’t underestimate the power of social media, and the danger of a social media storm, you don’t want to be at the center of it because of something you tweeted five years ago. By staying positive, respectful, and open to discussions you will be on your way to building a strong network of professionals online!