The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Graduates (New Year, 2010) by Anne Brown and Thom Singer.
Members in online communities are not prescreened. Therefore you have no way of knowing exactly whom you’re going to meet or what their motivations are. Spend too much time networking with the wrong people and social networking becomes more of a time suck than anything else. To meet these people who may change the trajectory of your career as quickly as possible you need to be strategic about how you utilize your time on these networks.
To start, jot down a few goals. These goals need to spell out exactly what you hope to gain from each network that you belong to. Once you’ve done that, break down how many hours per week you’ll need to spend online to reach your goal. If the number of hours seems realistic for you, then you’re mapping out a good strategy. No matter what your goals are, you must spend enough time on social networks to do the following:
Keep your profile updated. Almost every social network requires you to create an online profile. Some people do this the day they sign up and then never bother with it again. We’ve all seen the profiles with major gaps in the About You section, or with no photograph. This is at best a half-hearted attempt to be involved in an online community. This is like a person who shows up to an event, but sits in the back and doesn’t say anything to anyone. To have power in your network, you have to be engaged (online or in person).
If you aren’t, why bother?
If you’re not quite sure what to include in your profile, or how to say it, research the profiles of successful members of the network before completing and publishing your own. This will help ensure you’re speaking the same language as everyone else. Once your profile is active, keep it updated. People are more likely to reach out to someone who keeps their information current.
Be an active part of the community. Get engaged. Make contributions to the discussions, and strive to be a real part of the group. There’s no point in joining a network if you don’t plan to participate in it. At first it may seem a little awkward, or as if no one is paying attention, but after people have enough time to get a sense of who you are, you’ll see your inbox filling up with introductions from people you’ll be glad to know.
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