Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Building Professional Networks Online

Let's say you are a recent college graduate, looking at a terrible job market, and you are very tapped in to the online world like most whipper-snappers these days. So you decide to set up a LinkedIn profile.

As one of those aged Gen Xers, I want to tell you, do not think LinkedIn is Facebook without games. Because it isn't. It's the online version of going to a real networking event. People talk business, check out your experience, follow up with leads on Facebook.

And please, don't just start your LinkedIn network by dumping all your email contacts in and asking them to connect with a generic message. Just don't.

This afternoon, I got an email from "Jessica Powers" (not her real name), asking me to join her LinkedIn network. I was just at a conference last week, and met a ton of people and I'm still following up, so I thought maybe this was someone I met there.

But the name didn't match any of my notes, so I ran the name through my email inbox at work. Turns out Jessica had applied for a job with me, when I was hiring two months ago. I still had her application filed in the folder with all the other people I sent emails to saying "Thanks for applying, but you're not what we're looking for." I hadn't even phone screened this person, and it was only because I'm an email packrat that I had a touchstone at all to remember who she was.

This is what I wrote back to Jessica:

Hi Jessica,

Thank you for inviting me to join your LinkedIn network.

I use LinkedIn to only connect with people that I know personally or professionally, so please do not be offended if I do not accept your invitation.

I would recommend that you start building your network by reaching out to only those people that you work with or network with personally. Once you have built a good network in real life, you will find it easier to build a professional network online.

Best regards,

Kate Hutchinson
It's good advice, so I thought I would share it. Build a network in person first, and then take it online. You can't build credibility if no one can remember who you are beyond an email address. Networking is very hard work, involving attending events, calling people, writing emails, and remembering details about people and making deals that help everyone get something they want or need. 
Networking is not an address book dump into a website.

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