In a world increasingly dominated by the digital, the value of digital social interaction is as valuable as ever to forging connections, especially in your career. Using social media to network is a great way to meet people you may never have had access to otherwise. Some sites, like LinkedIn, directly link you to professionals in every field, and some allow less obvious methods of reaching out, like Instagram. Either way we are incredibly lucky to live in a world where connection is easier than ever and just because it isn’t face-to-face doesn’t mean you can’t get awesome results.
The most obvious networking site is the one built specifically for that purpose: LinkedIn. Yet despite the incredible opportunity that LinkedIn presents, too few people leverage it well. First off, dedicate some time to make your profile shine–upload a nice headshot, write a catchy headline, add a detailed description of each job you list, and include links to anything you have worked on or that is relevant to a potential connection. I try to update my profile fairly regularly with links to articles I have written, photos I have published, and projects I have contributed to. When connecting on LinkedIn, it is okay to reach out to people you don’t know if it is done tactfully. Think about reading the message from their perspective–why should they give you the time of day amongst possibly hundreds of other messages they receive. What can you offer their company and what are you asking of them in return? Be clear and concise and sometimes it can really pay off.
I’ve built up a pretty good presence on Instagram and it’s definitely my most used social platform. In terms of using social media to network, it’s one of the first places I start. I don’t want to say that I “stalk” employees at potential companies so much as I “do my research.” I rarely have a problem direct messaging the accounts I follow, regardless of follower count or their position. It’s still a human being on the other end and oftentimes they will be happy to respond and even flattered that you reached out. I also get tons of people sliding into my DMs, most of which I try to politely respond to or ignore if they’re weird, but every once in awhile I’ll get one that catches my eye. For example, my friend Caity reached out to me out of nowhere less than a year ago asking to grab lunch and something about the way she boldly messaged me made me say yes. Fast forward and we are now good friends and hang out and work together all the time. Is there someone you admire on Instagram or that you think would be a good contact for you? Throw them a follow and write a friendly DM, because why not. At worst they won’t respond. And be open to the chance when someone does the same to you.
Facebook is maybe one of the most finicky options in using social media to network. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever reached out to someone on Facebook. There is something more personal about a person’s Facebook account that feels strange to invade for talk of work. You could certainly message a company’s Facebook page or message a friend of a friend to introduce yourself. You’ll need to use your best judgement though and consider how you would feel if a stranger Facebook messaged you about a job. Also keep in mind that Facebook has filters to block messages from senders you aren’t friends with, so it could be awhile before that person even sees the message. That being said, Facebook is an awesome way to keep in touch with connections you already have, so be active and wary of the things you share. The girl you sat next to freshman year could start an amazing company or the former coworker you chatted with arbitrarily may move on to a company you have long admired. These are the chances you could really use Facebook networking to your advantage.
Using social media to network is great, but so too is the art of good ol’ email. The trick sometimes is finding the contact information of someone who is relevant to your job search, but once you’ve determined who to talk to, the cold email is the easy part! Mention any sort of connection you may have to the person you are contacting and explain concisely why you are contacting them and what you think they can gain from responding as well as what you hope to get in return. Sometimes it is as simple as wanting to learn more about a company and offering to buy them coffee (assuming you are in the same place) or maybe there is a job you are applying for and you think they could offer some insight into the position. Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to ask.
You can find digital social interaction on so many sites and apps, from the classics like Twitter, YouTube, and Tumblr, to those designed specifically for networking like Shapr. The golden rule when using social media to network is to be tactful and professional. You should present yourself on each platform as a cohesive brand because these scattered pieces we add to the internet add up to a bigger picture that tells a lot about who you are. Of course you can be silly, retweet all the memes you want, upload videos of your travels and your rants, post pictures of cute dogs, take quizzes about which Disney princess you are based off your preferences of fruits, and use the internet the way it is used best–to connect.
It probably sounds like cheesy advice, but in everything you do you should try to remain as authentic to yourself as possible. Sometimes I worry that I’m not edgy enough with my style for certain brands or that my lack of experience in some aspect of a project will hinder my ability to perform. But if you are honest with yourself and with those around you, it will earn a lot more respect in the end. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t and be up front about things you don’t know how to do. It’s better to ask for some help up front than to mess up and cause more problems down the line. Social media can make it hard to tell what is true from what is fake and it’s a curated version of our lives, not a complete representation. But at the same time it has come to mean a lot in almost every field so if you’re going to post something online, make sure it shows you in a way that you would want a potential employer or your parents to see. The digital image of yourself can be used to impress but can also seriously damage your reputation.