The New Rules for Networking: 4 Tips That Never Go Out of Style

October 1, 2014

What’s old is new again, or so I’m told. Filters give our digital photos a retro vibe, and the phrase “yo” is in vogue once more. Digital trends have changed how we interact, but has the content changed with it? I’ve heard that social media is just one big, online cocktail party. If that’s the case, do we really need to rethink everything we used to know about networking, or do the old rules still apply in the digital age?

I would argue that the new rules for networking center around old principles, from before when hashtags and user profiles took over.

The new (old) rules for networking

1. Meet face to face.

The Internet has provided a massive amount of data about individuals that you can digest before you even meet someone. You can see if you have similar interests, where they work or went to school and any mutual connections you may have. Social media makes it incredibly easy to find like-minded professionals and start chatting. Absolutely use Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites for networking with other professionals.

However, social media is just another tool to make offline connections and should not be used as a substitute for meeting face to face. Send a request or a note to someone you want to get to know. Explain why you want to connect (have similar interests, are a fellow alum, want perspective on a company) and spark a conversation.

Once you make contact, make sure to offer to grab coffee or lunch and meet in-person. It’s much easier to progress a friendship or working relationship with someone who you’ve seen in the flesh. I’ve also met with reporters in real life so that my name isn’t just one of 1,000 in their inbox.

2. Don’t force a mentorship.

I’ve read many articles recently that boast the benefits of having a mentor. I don’t disagree with the advantages of having someone who you can trust on your side, helping guide you in your career. But many veteran practitioners are seeing that new professionals, who they’ve never met, are reaching out and asking them to be their mentor.

This new practice strikes me as odd because while these established professionals have a wealth of knowledge of the industry, they don’t know you personally — your career goals, your work ethic, your experiences and your strengths. Besides giving you a few tips on how to write a résumé, this type of mentorship won’t add much value to a new career. You can’t force a mentorship.

I’ve found that mentorships grow organically. The mentor could be a current or former co-worker who you trust. They could be a college professor or even a friend you’ve met outside of work or school who you respect. As you share experiences, ask questions and lean on someone for advice, the mentorship just happens. The important part is that your mentor knows your strengths and goals — and yes, even your weaknesses — to help you along your path.

3. Send follow-up notes.

Did you meet someone at a networking event or connect on LinkedIn? Make sure that you follow up with a note as to how you met and how you might be a resource in the future. I’ve collected business cards at networking events only to come home and not remember which card belonged to which person I met. If you meet someone in-person, then scribble down a few notes on the back of his or her business card and send an email with something he or she might find useful based on what you talked about.

Did you connect with someone on LinkedIn? Don’t add a connection and then disappear. Send a message with thanks and start a conversation. Ask a question — people love talking about themselves — or share an article that they might like. Make sure that you are more than one name in hundreds in their network. Taking the time to personalize networking puts you ahead of the pack. (Then, see rule No. 1 and do that, too.)

4. Be genuine.

While we have multiple social media profiles to manage and barriers between personal and professional lives to maintain, the new rule for personal branding is to be genuine across all of your accounts. You don’t need to compartmentalize or be half of yourself on Twitter and the other half of yourself on Facebook.

It’s OK to act like a human being on LinkedIn or Twitter. In fact, having a personality will help develop your personal brand even more.

Now, don’t throw all caution to the wind, but it’s safe to say that you can show your personal interests outside of what you do from 9 to 5. These extra tidbits of who you are can also form bonds with others online if you share common interests. As long as you’re comfortable having grandma see anything you’re posting, feel free to be genuinely you — on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and anywhere else that your Internet self might live.

While online platforms have added a few complexities to networking practices, you can’t fail if you apply tried and true methods that complement social media.

Heather Sliwinski
Heather Sliwinski is the PR lead at 6SensorLabs, a San Francisco-based tech startup. She is the immediate past chair of PRSA’s New Professionals Section. Sliwinski graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in journalism and mass communications and a certificate in business.


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