Networking Online: How and Why You Should Make the Most of It

At the suggestion of reader and fellow technical communication consultant Larry Kunz, I thought I’d elaborate a bit on the use of networking to find full-time employment or customers.

In addition to spending a lot of time on the job, a lot of American office workers–and others!–spend a lot of time online. For instance, the average internet user spends nearly 2 hours a day interacting in online social networks. Multiply that out and it’s ~628 hours or 26 days a year swapping jokes, sharing blogs, or posting pictures of cats.

That’s a heck of a lot of time. Are you doing anything productive with it? If not, you should.

On the Positive Side…

Professional online networks–from LinkedIn forums to topical blogs and industry news sites–are places where you can contribute to the public conversations regarding your profession or industry. Do you have good ideas or a unique perspective that can cause one side or another to reconsider their position? You can, over the course of multiple conversations, be considered a respected “voice of authority” on a particular topic or range of topics. And if you don’t have any deep thoughts, you can always ask smart questions. You might even find yourself motivated enough to write a blog.

This process of putting your bright thoughts out there helps to build your “brand,” a.k.a. what people think of you when they hear your name. Odds are, if someone is considering hiring you, they’re going to do a little searching online to see what they’ll find. Wouldn’t you like that to be something brilliant?

On the Negative Side…

It’s entirely possible that you don’t spend your free time visiting blogs that relate to your day job. Perfectly understandable, you might be burned out after a long day of banking, human resources, or whatever. But even if you don’t “hang out” where your potential customers or employers do, a lot of your comments are still online, and they can get a good feel for how you behave based on what they see. Do you use a lot of profanity? Do you post a lot of pictures from your latest wild trip to Vegas? Do you complain about your bosses or coworkers?

The bottom line is that current and potential employers and customers surf the web, too. And if you’re posting online, nothing is private. The only way to avoid people seeing anything is to avoid the internet altogether, and even then other people will still post words and pictures over which you have no control. Good luck with that.

You might not be able to do anything about what other people post about you (though you can do things like untag yourself from photos your friends posted on Facebook). You can do something about the sorts of things you post. That goes a long way toward helping with your “first impression” in the game of online networking.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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