What does it mean to “network” in our current digital landscape? The word itself can be a bit intimidating to those who are job searching or just beginning their careers. The implications behind what networking involves is overwhelming—who are the right contacts to make? Do I really have to talk to people I don’t know? What if they don’t respond to me? What’s the perfect sales pitch? How do I make sure I stand out? Where do I even start?!
Regardless of which step you are at in your career, there can be a weight of uncertainty attached to building your network from scratch and marketing yourself both in person and online.
While we can’t tell you exactly who to DM in order to get the job you want, we can give you some tips on how to use tools that will increase your visibility to potential connections. We can also show you that it is a lot less stressful to begin building your network than you think. In this case, we are going to cover social media with a focus on LinkedIn and how you can make it work to your benefit.
Is social media really that important when building a network?
Social media provides us with access to unlikely connections and new opportunities that we never would have seen or been considered for 15-20 years ago. Social media isn’t only for YouTube drama, your Aunt’s photo dumps on Facebook, or rage-Tweeting. It is a tool that younger generations can use in order to get a head start in their careers. Even if you are not interested in developing a personal digital footprint, you should consider the benefits of a professional one.
According to LinkedIn’s 2018 State of Sales report, it was found that 62% of salespeople look for an “informative LinkedIn profile when deciding whether to work with [another sales professional]” (Schriber, 2018) and 89% of tops salespeople consider networking platforms to be critical to closing deals (Harvard Business Review 2019). A positive social media presence can only help you in your pursuit of professional development and success. It is the easiest way to begin establishing and diversifying your network.
When building your network on social media, my two tips of advice are to learn your industry platforms and connect with early career employees.
Pick Your Platforms
Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, etc. The list goes on of social media sites that have made us feel the need to go outside and touch grass after hours of scrolling. It is likely that you and a majority of your peers have grown up with the knowledge of how to use these platforms and have been passive participants on a few of them.
In a 2021 survey conducted by Pew Research Center of U.S. adults, it was found that roughly seven-in-ten Americans say that they have used any kind of social media site, with YouTube and Facebook as the most popular platforms (Auxier and Anderson, 2021), followed by Instagram, Pintrest, Linkedin and Snapchat.
The key idea to emphasize here is your role as a “passive participant”. In order to build a network online, you should learn which social media platforms are most popular in your industry. Follow this up by becoming an active member of that community. Here are a couple social media sites and what they might best be utilized for:
LinkedIn: Career management (job searching, resume building, direct industry connections).
Twitter: Access to global community and real-time trends.
Instagram: Curated content, building your brand, familiarizing yourself with your industry’s audience, and following industry leaders.
Whichever site you end up engaging with, invite people that you already know to build your social presence. When you begin posting, prioritize quality over quantity. Post engaging content that you not only find relevant, but are things that you feel your connections will interact with. This will bring more attention to your profile and organically grow your network.
Our first instinct when trying to get our foot in the door is to message those in positions of power. It’s sending our cover letter in the form of a direct message to the executive leadership of our dream company, hoping they’ll give us a chance! More often than not, these messages will go unnoticed just from the sheer amount of outreach these individuals are receiving.
Rather than hedging all of your bets on a response from the CEO, consider making connections with individuals working at the same company who are in entry-level positions. According to a study measuring LinkedIn InMail response rates conducted by the Harvard Business Review, “People earlier in their careers respond most often to an initial message, while VPs and C-level professionals respond the least to people they don’t already know”(Harvard Business Review 2019).
You are going to have more in common with entry-level employees which lends to more relatability and relevant advice that they could provide. Once you begin networking with these professionals, your degree of connection to your field of interest or dream job becomes smaller and smaller.
Be Confident and Be Yourself
Your network is composed of everyone that you meet both in passing and on a personal level. Invite family, friends, past colleagues, etc. to be connections. Your network on social media is an extension of your network in real life. It grows with you throughout your career.
It is easy to tell when someone approaching you online is disingenuous and looking to serve themselves. The more honest you are in your intentions to learn, share your interests, and grow your network, the more human responses you are likely to receive. Who you are as a professional online should reflect who you are in real life!
For more information about virtual networking, check out “Network Virtually and Market Yourself Online“!