Friday, December 14, 2007

Ten Useful Rules for Novice Networkers

I've had a bit of a break (not from thinking, just from sharing), and realized I need to change something. It's important to be fresh, right? In the interest of sharing, here's my thoughts on the 10 things that newbies to networking (online, of course) can do to get their feet wet:

1) start an account
The toughest part (as a procrastinator) is often the first step -- getting started. So pick a network, create an account, upload a flattering picture, and log off. It'll take a couple minutes -- big deal. You've entered the world of online social networking -- congratulations! You may want to get a free email account to use for contact purposes, but I haven't found it necessary to add yet another to my list since I get very little spam from any of the sites that I use.

2) see how many people you know that are already there
Most of the social networking sites have a feature where you can access your online email (Gmail, aim, Yahoo!, etc.) or local address book to compare notes and find out who among those you already communicate with is already there (the list may surprise you). I have never heard of this being a security issue, and I have used the feature several times. Note that these services compare email addresses, not names, city, state, etc. You may also reverse steps 1 and 2 by sending an email to a select few contacts to see which social networking site they use most. I suspect it will be one of those pictured above . . .

3) test the waters
Go ahead -- click on the hyperlinks located througout the site. See what the site offers for free (most will offer enough to keep you interested without ever charging a dime). Click here, click there . . . explore! See what others have posted on their profile page -- get ideas for your own.

4) join a group
Each site is slightly different, but there should be a place for groups that folks can join based on shared demographics, interests, etc. Join one -- any one -- and check it out. You can always un-join, but many will allow you to preview the group a little before joining.

5) make a new friend
These sites realize that we come back to a place (in the "real" world and the "virtual") when we know someone there and enjoyed our experience. You should realize that too, and plan for success. As you are exploring and joining groups, make a new friend! It's not all that different than it is face-to-face, except no one has to decide who is paying for the drinks :-).

6) talk in public
As you venture throught the groups and communities, find a place where you can post something . . . anything. It's a start! Just post someting simple like a hello and a question: "Hi, I was just checking out this group and wondered how often you guys check the messages." If you've added friends, make a note on their profile page -- perhaps simply a "Hi!"
Say something!

7) make a public post
Now that you said something in public, it's time to build your confidence. In the group area or community there is likely to be a place where more substantive posts can be made. These contain views, opinions, and things that you might otherwise not say immediately after introducing yourself to someone. Follow the lead of those who have already posted (unless they received a cold shoulder response from others). Make a post at least as long as one of the paragraphs in this post, even if it is only in response to someone else.

8) find reasons to communicate
One of the "tricks" of networking is to be ever-watchful for opportunities to communicate with your contacts. If you just met someone who works in outdoor grill sales and you see an article that says stainless steel exteriors are better than castiron, send that person a link to the article and ask for their input. If you just met someone who is thinking about relocating to Topeka and you see something about cities (like Topeka) that have the highest cost of living, send them the link and ask if they know about the information. Develop this habit and you will be at the top of your game before you know it.

9) introduce two others for no reason
As you intentionally network and communicate, you will not only find things to talk about but also people who should be talking to each other -- even without you. Tell them! There's nothing better than being introduced to a person you "need to meet" by someone who has no vested interest in the introduction or the relationship that follows. Be a Networking Matchmaker!

10) repeat 1-9
Do each of these until you do it out of habit. Post the list on your computer. Take a look at it every day.

How have you done so far? Don't worry if you haven't mastered any of these yet -- few people ever do. The list is not all-inclusive, but these are the basics. You will see them work and you will also find many excuses to put them off. I encourage you to follow through with your ideas as you come up with them. It's best to take an idea and run with it -- especially if you have the procrastination gene (like me).

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