The maturation of social networks has made it easier than ever to connect with new people, add to or even completely transform your professional network. Much like a real estate investor might “flip” a house in a matter of weeks or months, with today’s networking tools, you can flip your network of contacts in a comparable time frame.
I know this is true, because I flipped my own network. Early last year, I was looking to make a career transition from IT to marketing, and I began this process by connecting with many new people outside of my field at the time. Before long, I had dozens of new professional connections, including several in marketing and PR, all of whom helped me in various way make the career jump into a new role and field.
Based on my experience, here are 10 tips to help you flip your own network:
Use multiple channels. To cast the widest possible net, use different social media channels. Start with the major sites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, and also consider some specialized and emerging networks, such as Ning, Tumblr or Biznik. Engage with people on sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, too.
Get into the conversation. People will be more likely to connect with you when they know a little about you. For people to get a sense of who you are, find your medium and voice and put yourself out there. Whether it’s tweeting, blogging, posting to LinkedIn groups or commenting on blogs, regular activity will boost your profile and set the stage for future introductions and connections.
Introduce yourself. Though it seems obvious, to connect with people you don’t know, you’ll need to introduce yourself properly. The key is to make each introduction genuine and pertinent to the person you’re contacting. Tell the person why you want to connect, and how it will benefit both of you. In my case, I mentioned that I was seeking to make a change out of IT, and I was hoping to network and learn from professionals in other fields.
Don’t harass people. Take care not to flood people with excessive messages or invitations and respect people’s privacy. If someone declines a connection request, accept the decision and move on. Don’t try reconnecting again unless you have a legitimate reason — for example, if you just spoke with the person at an event and are following up.
Be realistic. Targeting C-level executives or sending out mass invitations using non-personalized greetings may seem like the fastest way to build or flip your network, but such tactics are likely to turn people off and may even get you blocked on some networking sites.
Attend webinars. Webinars are a great way to learn more about a particular topic and to network. If the event uses a hashtag, tweet during the event and engage with the other attendees. After the event, follow up and initiate connections.
Be patient. Social-networking sites may represent a game-changing phenomenon for connecting with new people, but in the same way that you can’t remodel a kitchen in a day, you won’t be able to remake your network overnight. Take time to build your profile on multiple sites and cultivate initial back-and-forth greetings and relationships until you can establish tighter connections.
Get out of your comfort zone. Have you ever met someone who, initially, you had nothing in common with, only to discover after 15 minutes of conversation that you got along really well? Be open to new connections — including, and especially, with people working in different fields and with whom you would not normally interact. Sometimes you just never know who that next great connection will be.
Don’t neglect e-mail. While social networks are ideal for generating new connections, sometimes the best way to establish deeper rapport is to move the correspondence to e-mail and engage in more depth, one on one.
Mix online and offline connections. “It’s nice to meet you in person” is a statement I hear more and more now as people who know each other through Twitter or LinkedIn meet in person for the first time. Though not practical for long-distance connections, meet-ups and events provide great opportunities to solidify virtual connections with a smile, handshake and good conversation.