Online Professional Networking

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1 Online Professional Networking By Gary H. Jacobs In today s uncertain business environment, online professional networking has become more important than ever before. In addition to the obvious use of maintaining a network of contacts in the event of a job loss, layoff, or business setback, these networks also provide: Access to an almost unlimited number of professional contacts, The opportunity to help friends and colleagues with recommendations and job search information, The ability to exchange ideas and materials outside of one s normal circle of contacts, Staying up-to-date with industry trends, A free or low-cost way to establish a public profile and online identity, and An easy way to reestablish contact with long lost friends and colleagues. Over time, professional networking services have become much easier to use due to user feedback, free access, and acceptance by a wider audience. As a result, today s services are very intuitive. One such professional networking service is LinkedIn ( com), a free networking service for professionals. Social networks such as MySpace ( and Facebook (www. facebook.com) provide excellent opportunities for social networking as well, not to mention the growing influence of Twitter ( However, the demographics of LinkedIn are generally better suited for professional networking in a business or government environment. NCMA has also set up official networks for its members on these networking sites as well. According to LinkedIn s marketing statistics, the site s current membership of 35 million users includes 750,000 senior executives, personnel from all of the Fortune 500 companies, an average user age of 41, and an average household income of $109, These demographics are similar to those of the average reader of The Wall Street Journal, who, according to 10 Contract Management August 2009

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3 LinkedIn, is 48 years old with an average family income of $102, Principles of Networking In an online network, the principles of networking are much the same as networking in person. A networker must start out by giving information and expertise with no expectation of return. As a result, the networker will gain visibility and experience, both inside and outside of his or her industry, and will develop a reputation as someone who can help others. This will come back in positive ways that might not even be expected. 3 A professional network needs to be worked on regularly, both online and in person. Typically, a total of two hours per week is necessary to build and maintain a good network. 4 In addition, networking should be done on an individual's own time. Networking should also be done before it is needed. As an example, if networking for employment is only begun after you are laid off, the results will be far less satisfactory than with a network that has been built up over time with lots of past participation on your part so that the quality of your work is well known. Jan Vermeiren, a networking coach and expert in this area, refers to the networking cycle as Giving-Asking- Thanking. 5 Networking Techniques Setting a Profile The first step is to simply choose one or more of the online social or networking services and signing up to create an online profile. At this point, a networker will have to make decisions regarding the following: Is this going to be a personal or professional network, or a combination of both? What type of an online persona will be shown (i.e., what direction do you want to follow and what do you want to be known for)? Are you representing yourself as an individual or, in the case of a small business owner, as a company? What is your brand and how will this be conveyed? How will you convey that you are a person of interest? How much personal information should be revealed? Should your profile include a photo? Will the network be public so that linked members can see each other? One of the most common ways to build an online profile is to cut and paste portions of a résumé to develop an online document that is basically a biography. This profile might also include a vanity link to a personal Web site a powerful professional description. For help in setting up your online personal profile, there are several free online tutorial videos available on YouTube 6, including a generic version and a small business version that provide insights into what information should be included and how to include the right information. However, here are a few words of caution. You should assume that whatever is posted will eventually become public enough to show up in a Google search by current and potential future employers. Once released onto the Internet, it may be stored there indefinitely. In addition, a networker should be very hesitant in providing or phone contact information to unknown persons and should never provide home address or family information. LinkedIn provides various settings that allow you to control privacy levels to help mitigate these concerns. Building a Network Many individuals starting out with an online professional networking service will attempt to link to as many people as possible without a strategy. This is a mistake, as the goal should be to build a targeted network. The network can and should have multiple purposes, such as common interests, potential employment contacts, alumni contacts, etc., but the point is that there should be a strategy. Every network has to start somewhere. The first step in building a professional network is to start with invitations on LinkedIn to friends, colleagues, and business acquaintances. This step can be automated by using a LinkedIn feature that provides the ability to upload contact data from Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft Outlook data and then manually designate invitations to individuals to link. The contact data for invitations should be taken from a personal database of contacts that is maintained online and separate from an employer s database. Such online databases of contacts are invaluable in the event of a computer malfunction or loss of employment where the user s workplace contact lists are no longer available. When providing an invitation, the user s personal address, rather than workplace address, should also be used since some corporate networks will bounce s from LinkedIn. The next step is to start expanding the network. LinkedIn has groups of open networkers, who often list open networker or LinkedIn open networker (LION) by their name. Their goal is to build large networks, and they provide open invitations to connect. 7 It is useful to connect to several of these individuals as long as they have some sort of related common interests that will potentially support your networking strategy. LIONs and other open networkers will often be active in discussion groups on areas of interest and how to use LinkedIn. Recruiters are also good additions to a professional network. They are generally very well connected and can help with contacts. (Be sure to return the favor by recommending suitable potential industry candidates to these recruiters when they have openings to fill.) As with the rest of the network, try to be selective for example, if you work in the aerospace indus- 12 Contract Management August 2009

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5 and international contracts with civilian and government customers. Mr. Jacobs is a past president of the Fort Worth Chapter of NCMA. He can be reached at or online through his LinkedIn public profile at garyjacobs0helosandoil. The author wishes to acknowledge Jan Vermeiren of Networking-coach.com and Chris Muccio of LinktoProsper.com for their help and encouragement. try, you should try to focus on recruiters that specialize in that area. User groups are key to building a professional network. They make it easier to directly contact individuals. With LinkedIn, an address is not needed to contact or invite someone to link who is in the same user group or who has worked with the user in the past. User groups can also be a good source of information in the form of discussions and posted news stories. However, another word of caution here LinkedIn will restrict a user s ability to invite new members into his or her network if too many invitees reply that they don t know this person. Two of the most popular user groups are Blue: The DallasBlue Business Network and Executive Suite. There is also an NCMA group. Online Networking Techniques and Etiquette In order to create a network with above average results, a networker will need to give people a reason to link. This can be done with an interesting profile and a significant number of contacts, typically 25 or more, so as to provide an opportunity to gain a valuable network of contacts. With a little effort, it is not hard to reach this figure. A network is also more valuable if it includes recommendations from customers, employers, and colleagues. One easy way to generate recommendations is to write an unsolicited recommendation for colleagues. This provides a nice emotional boost for them and they still retain control of the text, as LinkedIn will not allow a recommendation to be posted without the recipient s approval. This action often results in recommendations in return, although that is not the purpose. Remember that the first principle of networking is to give without the expectation of anything in return. Another technique to build an online professional network is to search the LinkedIn database for companies of interest and/or fellow alumni and then look for common areas of interest. Discussing a common area of interest, along with an invitation to link, often results in a positive response. A useful technique to gain visibility is to participate in online discussions, answer questions, or create a blog within LinkedIn. As with your online persona, this should always be kept professional and be written with the assumption that it will be publicly available in a Google search in the future. Online discussions can also be used to announce that an individual is looking for employment, but again, this information immediately becomes public to everyone, including the individual s current employer. Conclusion Online professional networking can create possibilities that would not ordinarily be available any other way. The use of such networks can support career, professional, or personal goals, and can also provide useful information on industry trends. CM About the Author GARY JACOBS is a commercial business manager for Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is responsible for negotiations and management of commercial Get even more connected to NCMA and expand your network by joining the NCMA Facebook and LinkedIn groups. You can also follow NCMA on Twitter! Send comments about this article to Discuss this article with your peers online! Just go to Jacobs and click on Join Discussion. Endnotes Description of LinkedIn Premium Audience (February 1, 2009), accessed at premium. Erick Schonfeld, LinkedIn to Launch its Own Ad Network, Tech Crunch (September 14, 2008), accessed at com/2008/09/14/linkedin-to-launch-its-ownad-network/. Jan Vermeiren, Networking Coach E-Course, Part 1: What is networking and what is not? available through accessed at Chris Muccio, YouTube video, LinkedIn 5 Tips to Quickly Build Your Network (March 27, 2008), accessed at =m0ktlorl5qi&feature=related. Jan Vermeiren, Networking Coach E-Course, Part 6: Giving, available through accessed at Dorothy Scott, YouTube video, LinkedIn Profile Tutorial (June 26, 2008), accessed at www. youtube.com/watch?v=ysxz5et9-ba&feature= related; and Jim Kukral, YouTube video, How and Why to Use LinkedIn.com (November 4, 2008), accessed at =KQs1P547vlU&feature=related. Wikipedia, LinkedIn Open Networker, accessed at LinkedIn_Open_Networker. 14 Contract Management August 2009

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