One of the many challenges I'm facing as I'm networking for full time or freelance work - especially in the Chicago social good/non-profit sphere - is how many of my colleagues seem to have minimal (if any) awareness of how to network appropriately, especially via social media.
As I've discussed via another Chicago Now blog, my networking style online and offline is based more on relationship-building and developing contacts than it is on attracting a crowd of followers or simply "being wonderful". Granted, I work in a field with many competitors, but I thought that I would, for this week's post, share some of my insights and recommendations. At the very least, it may help all of us agents of the social good engage online more effectively.
So for non-profits and other social change agents, here are some thoughts and guidelines for making your networking via social media more effective - and more rewarding:
- Know Your Channels: I have heard many people discuss how "consultants" had encouraged them to adopt any and all social media channels in an effort to "stay current." For many non-profits, this means adding extensive engagement to an already full schedule. Different channels have different strengths, and knowing these strengths - as well as your organization's overall goals/reason for engagement and where your key supporters are talking - will mean less work and a greater chance of success.
- Never Trust Anyone Who Hasn't Read The Tipping
Point - As per another blog post, many consultants often refer to themselves as "mavens", "connectors" in the same breath as say, "social media ninjas/gurus/experts." A good rule of thumb is to ask where they learned such terminology, and (of course) reading The Tipping Point to understand some of the basics - the book's not just about people, but about messages and
trends. (It's also a really good book, and worth reading).
- Treat Everyone With Value - Social media is a two-way communications channel, but many treat it as a broadcast channel. In my recent experience, I have had one person suggest that because of the number of my 'followers' on a given channel, I would be a great asset. In another, a request to a new contact for guidance and contacts led to some general sounding advice....and several e-mails encouraging me to attend his free social media seminars. Reciprocity is the name of the game when networking, and being able to provide value to your contacts often helps in social media networking. Or, in other words...
- Helping Others Won't Hurt You - many times, several of us encounter contacts who are "tired of having their brains picked" or who are selective in who they assist. As agents of social change, this is...well, somewhat selfish. Wanting down time is one thing, but sharing contacts only brings benefits further down the line, and again - in networking and relationship building, reciprocity is the name of the game. However...
- It's OK To Say No If You Can't Help - Thankfully, people are helpful when I ask for key contacts at non-profits or other agencies, but or a few who can't, I often end up with notes encouraging me to visit NPO.net. Although it is a great site to visit for job leads, when it comes to tapping into social networks....it's sometimes much easier to say "I can't help you" - and provide a way you can help - than simply forwarding a well-used and utilized resource
We're living in a time when professional development is increasingly dependent on tapping into professional and personal networks - and social media allows for one method of access. Many non-profits and social change agents receive consul on how to get started on social media, but little insight into the mechanics of networking. Thankfully, there are no hard-and-fast rules, just guiding principles, allowing for some improvisation....but understanding those principles can help move people and organizations forward, moving them beyond simply posting updates towards building communities.