I had a version of the “networking” conversation a few times in the last month, so I thought it might be useful to share as a post for the larger community.
Take what you like, leave what you don’t. But I would value your feedback, as I could improve on this post for the greater community.
Networking, online or in person, is so valuable to your career, but it is easy to get busy with work and life and let it slip. I like to think of networking as an investment in yourself and your community. It is the number one thing I tell young people about, is that they should build and cultivate a network. Not only will it help you when you are looking for opportunities, but it also enriches your life, making you smarter, by giving you different perspectives.
In my experience, one of the problems with networking is referring to it as Networking (with a capital N). The idea that Networking is a thing to be crossed off the list, and for some of us, a real slog. Rather than an activity you do all the time as part of the communities you are a part of. Think of networking as meeting new people, connecting with industry colleagues, and catching up with friends. That approach frames the experience as something you get to do, rather than something you have to do.
I like to think of reasons why networking is important and why I like it. If you are let go (which I was 4 years ago), reaching out to your network, to your community, is much easier if you have been in communication with the same. I know or have met, a lot of nice, fun, interesting, smart people, so I enjoy connecting with them. Everyone’s situation is different, but making a habit of staying in touch, changes Networking to networking or just chatting with and meeting people.
For this post, I am focusing on online networking. I am based in Detroit, so I don’t have the opportunity for as much in-person networking with people in the digital advertising space as I might like. Now that many of us work from home, I think online networking is even more important.
I try to dedicate at least a few minutes each day to LinkedIn. Make it a habit by taking the five minutes between meetings, or when your brain needs a bit of a break, to go to LinkedIn. Do a little scrolling, a little liking, and share things you like or support. Help people whenever you can by offering advice, answering a question, sharing an open role, etc. Give positive reinforcement – we all like it, it’s free, and it feels good to do it. Share posts, but include your thoughts about why you are sharing, rather than a repost with no commentary. Even better, share your perspective and let your opinions show.
Consider a mix of shares, short posts, longer more thoughtful posts, or maybe even an article you have written (think Beeler.Tech or LinkedIn). I recommend posting all types, not everyone has time for a daily eight-paragraph post, but you likely won’t get your thought leadership across in a sentence or two.
Liking, sharing, and posting gets you in the feed while keeping you up to date with those you follow or are connected to. You stay informed about what they are thinking, what they care about, and what they are doing.
Once you have built a daily habit of checking in on your network, then start reaching to individuals. Old friends or colleagues whose names pop up. Send them a LinkedIn message to check in and see how they are doing. Maybe they started a new job, moved to a new city, or had a baby since you last spoke with them. Sometimes these interactions turn into a call or video call or maybe even an in-person coffee. If you don’t hear back, don’t sweat it, not everyone is active on LinkedIn or gets the notifications.
Don’t get wrapped up in the method of connecting; use LinkeIn, use email, text, WhatsApp, or whatever method makes the most sense for you and them.
While you are scrolling in LinkedIn, you will come across smart, insightful thoughts from people you don’t know. Start following them. Get more of them in your feed. Comment on their posts and share their posts (always giving them credit with a tag). If you feel strongly about what they posted, send them a note, and share with them how they impacted you. Reach out to connect with them, then follow the smart, interesting people they are connected to.
Adding interesting voices to your feed will make networking and connecting easier and something you can look forward to.
If someone is in a tough spot, try not to shy away. We all have been through tough times – loss of job, loss of family, sickness, mental health challenges, so lean in as much as you are comfortable. Check in with them. Offer to help, if you are genuinely able and truly willing, but never offer what you won’t be able to do. Sometimes people want to talk or vent and you can just lend an ear (keep those opinions to yourself). Sometimes a good brainstorming session is very useful for someone and they will welcome your ideas. People may not ask for these kinds of help, but may take you up on the offer. It might not even occur to them that this is something they want or could use. Sometimes people want your opinions and guidance. In any event, I encourage you to ask them what they want or need and then do that thing. Sometimes the thing that someone needs is simply someone to check in with them, which is free and oh-so easy to do.
The more you put into the community, the more helping you do, the easier it will be to ask for something when you need help. And don’t kid yourself, we all need help sometimes. Give someone the gift of helping you. It will be less of a favor and more just people doing what they are often open to doing.
Lastly, follow Matthew Katz. He is a long-time friend who goes out of his way to help others. He practices “being out there” all the time for the betterment of all of us.