The hottest trend on the internet and in business today is Social Networking.  At the forefront are powerhouse sites like Linked In and Facebook.  Anybody who spends anytime online knows about (or should know) the power of Social Networks. Many have heard about Linked In, created a Linked In network, and even toyed around with the Groups and Answers features.  But most people don’t know how to effectively use Linked In to grow their careers or business effectively.

Many people join the site, and send and receive invitations to connect.  Some follow the unspoken rules of the site, some don’t and make spamming a pass time.  While some people have managed to just barely navigate Linked In and create great networks, few people know how to effectively use the Social Networks they have created. While there are many social networking sites, for the purpose of this blog entry I will focus on Linked In.

There is a lot of information on Linked In and other places on the internet describing the features of the site.  You can find stories about the site owners and how they’ve raised money for the site.  You can find self professed gurus telling how their expertise can help them turn a Linked In network into a sales pipeline or using it for successful job hunting.  But you rarely learn about the work and effort you need to put into it to make it work for you.  Signing up for an account is the first step.  Putting up a profile is the next important step.  But if you leave it there, you are doing yourself a disservice and only adding to Linked In’s numbers, not it’s success stories.

To be effective in any type of networking, you need to put in the effort.  I set aside time each quarter to connect with all of my 700+ connections to let them know what’s going on in my world and how I can help them with any issues they are dealing with.  I am on Linked In daily because I run two groups on there and  get approval requests daily, not to mention inmail and invitations I need to weed through.  Every weekend, I am on Linked In looking for potential people to connect to.  I craft personalized introduction letters and request connection.  I also take time to answer questions when I can.  Sometimes I’ll answer publicly, sometimes privately.  But I try to take advantage of opportunities that will allow me to showcase my expertise (not solicit business or recruit, but show my expertise).  I send notes to my connections who have posted recent promotions, successes and good news.  They are almost always surprised by that action.  It shows I’m paying attention.

Another thing I try to do is humanize my networks.  To me, it’s not enough to just join a group or add a connections.  If I am connecting with someone it has to have meaning.  I’ll call when I can, and in some cases plan to meet face to face.  This coming Friday, I am having lunch with some of my connections and I am very excited.  What is the sense of “knowing someone” without getting to know them?  I’m not in some contest to see who can have the most connections.  I connect with whom I want to connect.  Somehow it all works itself out.  Remember that video I posted a little while back by IBM, where the guy is explaining he has 600+ friends on his network, and his boss tells him to find 10 potential high level employees?  And he responds that he doesn’t know anyone like that?  Well that’s an example of poor networking form.  I can guarantee that any type of position someone has I can find a contact who knows someone who is an ideal fit.  That is a wonderful advantage to have.  Because I keep in touch with my network, it is easier for them to remember who I am and makes them more willing to help me.  I’m not bothering people with forward requests.  I’m not referring people I don’t know.  I respect my network and am growing it organically. That is what makes me a successful networker.

There’s more to social networking but this blog isn’t long enough to hold it all.  I teach courses on social networking that breaks it down to the bare essence. If you’re interested, come check one out.  They’re not expensive.

So before you Link In, consider why you are linking in and what purpose it’ll serve.  Consider what amount of time you plan to put into it and what your expectations are.  Don’t connect for the sake of connecting or numbers.  Cultivate your network like you would your garden.  I guarantee the more attention and love you give it, the better your return.  If you don’t know how to do it, learn.  It’ll do wonders for your career and/or business

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

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A few hours of your time per month.  That’s the price for building a network.  Networking is hands down one of the top three elements for success.  Why is it so many people decide to let it fall to the bottom of the priority list?

Men do it all the time.  They get together for golf, at the country club, at exclusive dining clubs, cigar clubs, etc.  They come together to shoot the breeze, chip some balls, and do business.  They seem to do it seamlessly.  Women for some reason, aren’t as focused on networking, or shall I say the true value behind networking.  Men do it without giving it a name.  They put in the time, get to know their peers or counter parts, and they make things happen.  No really, understand what I’m saying here.  Women network, but not like men.  We are often pushed into it and out of our comfort zones.  I don’t know. For some reason, women feel that they cannot safely network, especially with other women.  I guess they think someone will steal their idea, turn on them, steal a client, or whatever.  Women also get so caught up in being all things to everybody (mom, businesswomen, corporate executive, student, etc) that they feel they don’t need to network.  This is especially true for Black Women.  Yes sisters, I’m telling it like it is.  I see it first hand every day.

I am blessed and fortunate that I forced myself to learn how to network.  I’m a Recruiter by trade so it’s par for the course, occupational hazzard.  But I have learned along the way that my sisters don’t take networking too seriously.  As you know, I started a network for Black Women to network.  And it has been wonderful, now that I have tightened the criteria for joining the network.  There are wonderful women from all backgrounds, levels of responsibility, locations, companies, etc.  But a lot of them don’t feel comfortable networking just yet.  That is why I go out of my way to facilitate networking opportunities.  Right now, we are all coming together to master networking amongst ourselves before moving on to networking with others.  It’s coming along.  I had to remove some folks who signed up and never again returned or participated.  And when asked, the response was “I’m just too busy”.  Sad.

It really doesn’t take that much to network.  You set a purpose, list the people or types of people you want to connect with, and reach out.  The worse they could say is “No”.  Most times, people are glad you reached out to them if you have a stated purpose for your initial contact.  Sites linked Viadeo, Linked In, Facebook are godsends.  But they create a safety net.  As long as you can shoot an email, why should you bother getting to actually know a person.  Heaven forbid picking up a phone to introduce yourself to Bob who just linked to you on Linked In.  It’s not that hard.  You shouldn’t use online sites as the core of your networking, only reaching out by email to connect or when you have a problem that needs to be solved.  Develop relationships.  Get to know the people you connect with.  You might find you have some things in common.  Don’t wait for the annual conferences to tell people about yourself or to find out about them.  Follow up often (perhaps quarterly like i do). People like to help or do business with people they are familiar with.  Remember that.

My next conference call for my networking group is on September 4th.  I’ve decided to make it an interesting exercise to encourage more connections.  I don’t want to disclose anything just yet, but I’ll keep you posted on the results.  Next week, I’ll be meeting some of my Atlanta connections (men and women) for the first time ever.  I am very excited about it and can’t wait to sit down and break bread with my Linked In connections to get to know them better.  I’ll let you know how that went too.

So bottom line is relationships and networks get you where you need to be and what you want faster than going it alone.  It only costs you some time.  Pick up a phone.  Go to the golf course.  Attend networking events.  Ask for introductions.  Introduce yourself.  Just start networking.

How much are you is it worth to you?

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham