Five Tips for Better Online Networking

Maybe one of your resolutions for 2011 is to make better use of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other online networking tools. Even if you already have an account, there are probably things you can do to enhance your online presence. Online networking is a great way to build and nurture your in-person relationships, not a replacement. Below are a few simple rules that can help you enhance your online networking skills.

1. Monitor Your Online Persona

You want to make it easy for others to find online information about you, and only about you. Select a single variant of your name (nickname or full name, middle name or just initial, etc.), and be consistent in your use of that variant. Research commissioned by Microsoft in December 2009 found that 79% of United States hiring managers and job recruiters surveyed reviewed online information about job applicants, and 70% of those have rejected a candidate based on what they found. By using exactly the same name on your resume, LinkedIn, and in all other places, you can make sure they find information about you, not someone else with a similar name. Just like you update your resume on a regular basis, you need to periodically run a web search on your own name to see what turns up in your online persona. Sometimes you can get erroneous information corrected, but often the easiest strategy is to make sure there is lots of accurate, current information about you, so the older, inaccurate information gets pushed further down in the search results.

2. LinkedIn is not Lunch

Just because your profile is connected to someone else’s profile online, it doesn’t mean you have a personal connection with them. True networking is not about maximizing the number of electronic connections, but about building quality relationships with fellow professionals. Take the time to comment on your connections status updates, answer questions in discussion groups, and forward information they will find useful. Better yet, meet local people for coffee or lunch, and spend an hour chatting about what’s going on in each of your lives. For example, I recently had lunch with someone I have known for years. During that single 45 minutes, I learned more about what was going on in his life than I had in the previous month of daily, brief encounters.

3. Etiquette Counts

When joining a new forum or trying out a new online tool, do your homework first. Just like you wouldn’t run a new reaction without reading the literature, learn the written and unwritten rules for a new community before jumping in. Some communities are highly structured and formal, and posting anything personal or off-topic will immediately brand you an outsider. Others are much more casual, and off-topic personal comments are allowed, or even expected. Knowing the tenor of the group, and how personal or professional members are, will allow you to frame your postings appropriately and appear neither too aloof nor too flippant.

4. Contribute

Just reading discussions is useful for you, but adding to the conversation allows you to help others. As you contribute meaningful information, insights and resources, you are also building your own reputation as a knowledgeable expert, increasing the amount of positive information about you online, and making it even more likely that people will be able to find you.

5. Think Before You Post

Would you be embarrassed if what you wrote ended up on the front page of the New York Times? What if your grandmother read it? Information on the internet lives forever. (Check out the Way Back Machine if you don’t believe me.) You may delete or forget what you wrote, but the internet will not. In addition, what you send privately to one person may be forwarded over and over again. Assume everyone will see anything you write. If you want to make sure it stays private, make a phone call, or just don’t say it. The bottom line is that as long as you don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do in person, online networking can be a great way to nurture and expand your professional network.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

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