Networking began as passing business cards at meetings and specific networking gatherings. Conversations were strictly professional, with talk of the offering of services and the chance to chat further over a working lunch. However the way we communicate has evolved and now networking is a thoroughly digital affair. Whether it's adding friends to social platforms, responding to tweets, joining industry specific online forums or professional circle groups, the digital world now offers the platforms to network effectively - and globally. With the ease of use and 'normality' of digital networking firmly entrenched in our lives, it's important to remember that there's a time and place for everything. There's a line drawn in the virtual sand between being seen as having fun within our social circle and then drawing unwanted embarrassment to ourselves and, possibly, our employer through poor decisions.
Traditional Digital Networking PlatformsIn the corporate world, LinkedIn, Google +, Facebook and Twitter have always been the stalwarts of digital networking. They have existed for long enough and have had several updates, that they can be considered established channels. It's quick and easy to find peers in your industry either in your own city or another country altogether. Networking through online platforms is perhaps now the best way to gain credibility - both personally and professionally. It doesn't happen without investing time as you need to discover and then nurture professional relationships; unless you're prepared to put in the work, you won't gain a network naturally. Digital networking can also act as a fantastic sounding board; feedback is almost instant - particularly on Twitter and whilst you sometimes need to not take criticism too personally, it's a great way to find out first reactions to new products, services and campaigns.
The New Digital Kids on the BlockInnovation within specific industries can be attained through collaboration and digital networking platforms are now responding to this need. Growing in popularity are virtual site-based profiles where all can be merged into just one interactive business card. These are usually widget-based with examples including vCard and Retaggr. Additionally, profession-specific platforms are now being set up to connect those who work within the same industry. This enables them to discuss current topics of interest, interact and learn from each other. One such site is Doximity, which is solely for medical doctors. Over 50% of physicians in America are now members of the site, which focuses on opportunities to connect with colleagues, network with staff at leading hospitals around the world and to have access to online medical journals that can be shared as continuing professional development.
How to Network Effectively OnlineThe line between social and professional networking has greyed considerably over the last few years. We've all sat and wondered whether to add a work colleague to our friends list or whether to endorse skills of those you are virtually acquainted with, but don't know particularly well offline. Professional networking should focus around:
- Promoting others and not always yourself - Display enthusiasm about the work of colleagues to promote positive office feeling
- Asking questions - If you're looking to set up a professional relationship, show you're interested in the other person to develop a genuine conversation
- Get to know those who do the same job as you - Don't view peers as purely competition, think of it as a community of similar-minded people who can share experiences and tips
- Be polite - It sounds simple, but can often be ignored. Even a short email to someone you've met once will be appreciated to show you've remembered them
- Ensure your privacy settings are correct, so you can separate your social and professional life
- Employ separate profiles and keep friends on Facebook and professional contacts on LinkedIn
- Use an active voice to engage in industry related discussion, but don't view the barrier of a laptop screen as an excuse to be rude or unprofessional