Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Making your business social networking work for you

Posted in job search and career development, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on February 16, 2011

Online social networking and social media have become basics in our day to day lives, and in how we reach out to connect with others. This holds for an increasing percentage of people worldwide and not just in the more technologically advanced countries. When handhelds and their increasing capacity to connect-in are included here, this involves and applies to members of communities and populations essentially everywhere. And like any other day-to-day basic, it is all too easy to take social networking and social media – and how we use them for granted.

Effective business social networking requires planning and a much more careful and nuanced sharing of message. This is true for when you are searching for a new job or working at a job and seeking to promote and advance a career (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development.) This is equally true for managing and building a business, and for making it work, and whether you have a startup or early stage business or a more established enterprise (see Business Strategy and Operations.)

My goal in this posting is to outline some of the basic issues and principles that arise when you bring business and business contexts into social media and when you do social networking with business priorities. Some of the things we do and even take for granted in our more strictly social, social networking do not and cannot work for us and serve our best interests if used in a business setting. There are, however, effective ways to do business through these media and channels that do not come across as awkward or stilted. Business social networking can be smooth and effective as social networking and still help you reach your professional goals. This posting is about how to do that.

• Know who you are reaching out to, to business social network with. Look them up online, and if you do nothing else in this review their online social networking profiles on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
• Do this initial review with emphasis on more professionally and business oriented sites like LinkedIn but look more widely than just the business networking sites.
• Look up their business online, and look beyond their business web site in this. Look to see what others have to say about this business, and in review sites, blogs and other online forums. And Google search the specific people you want to reach out to.
• Learn something of what they do and their business and professional background and look to see how actively and openly they social network online. As extremes, and by way of example, some business professionals are very open in whom they socially network with and some are essentially closed networkers and will only connect online with people they have vetted through off-line and face to face experience first.
• The basic networking strategy that a potential business social networking contact follows can and does say a lot about how open they might be for dealing with new people in general, and their openness to new business ideas or opportunities.
• Look to how they communicate. Do they like and share the details or do they prefer a more sparse communications style? Do they offer a limited and at most bare bones profile online about themselves or do they offer significant amounts of detail that potential clients or business associates could read about them?
• Do they twitter or blog, or use new media online, or so they primarily stick to older generation online technologies and forums?
• Use social media and online information resources to do your background research and due diligence, and to bring your planning into clearer, more effective focus for helping you to reach your goals and priorities.

Once you have a clearer idea as to who you would reach out to and what you would communicate with them, bring your message itself into focus.

• Watch out for buzz words and slang, and especially where you deal with people not in your industry and functional specialty.
• Watch out for slang and colloquial expressions and especially where you and the people you would connect with have different backgrounds and experience. Keep in mind that using slang and colloquialisms can work but it can also lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
• Jokes and humor can work face to face and with people you know and know well, but they are likely to fail on you and can even badly backfire in online business social networking.
• Swearing and use of expressions that could be considered derogatory or insulting are never appropriate. Be respectful and considerate, and in ways you would want others to be respectful and considerate towards you. Yes, to belabor a point here, be professional.
• And write and speak for clarity and ease of understanding. Listen for feedback and make any conversation that you begin or are invited into two way.

Some of these points may seem so obvious that most any reader would wonder why I bother to include all of this, but I include the above points for a reason. I have worked with a great many people over the years and sometimes across significant cultural and experiential divides and I have seen each and every one of these points broken and to bad effect.

When you go to a business meeting, you seek to dress appropriately for the setting and the business context. When you business social network and connect online in general with others for business reasons you need to show a similar and high level of care there too.

I am writing this with a specific client business I am working with in mind and their clients they are working with. In their case this means people who have been out of work and who are seeking to break into the job market and into new careers – so I focus on the basics, or at least some of them here. I will simply note in ending this posting that it is never a bad idea to review and start from the basics, and especially when facing a new beginning – as you do any time you reach out to begin a new potentially mutually beneficial business relationship. I am sure I will be writing further on this set of issues in future postings.

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