Don’t Worry, Be Social

Professional Online Networking – A Golden Rule

{Something I found in my archives that I wrote back in 2009}

In today’s business world, networking in an activity expected of any serious professional – in any field – and a pre-requisite for growth and success.  You can’t take a college course in it, but you can drown yourself in a hundred books, many written before the advent of Internet-based networking.  And it is today’s web networking platforms that dictate the speed of business, much like at the advent of overnight delivery and real-time transactions across unlimited geographies.

If you’re not purposely networking, you’re missing a central business practice, or worse yet, not having any control over your relationships (and perceived relationships), which is part of your reputation, professional value, and even brand.  And if you’re networking, but not ONLINE, you’ve just brought a bicycle to a drag race.

If there is a Golden Rule of Networking, this is it: Use common sense to intentionally build professional relationships.

This has always been important, from the Silk Road to the Information Superhighway.  Common sense hasn’t changed.  But few people take the time to realize common sense, and fewer know how to translate it to today’s nearly instant, boundary-less, digital world.

For example, part of networking is word-of-mouth marketing (WOM).  People will talk about you and your business.  The point is to participate in the dialog.  In the “real world” this is best done by belonging to – or at least learning from – such groups as BNI (Business Network International,, where you learn to use relationships to spread your message the way you want it to be spread, instead of leaving referrals and testimonials to chance.  On the Internet, most industries have discussion forums of all kinds where people discuss companies and their products and services, yet some professionals don’t even look at what’s being said, let alone setting the tone for such a virtual town meeting that will go on with or without them.  But back to individual networking itself…

To kill two birds with one stone, let’s look at networking on the Internet in relation to what we do in real life, covering five main points.

(1) Belong to different networks for different reasons.  People don’t belong to the Western New York Paralegals Association for the same reasons they go to the Smith Family Reunion, or do community service through Kiwanis.  Immediate family, church, your bowling league – there are things you would share with some of these people and not others.

The Internet has many different networking sites, each with its own “culture” or flavor.  On one end we have the original social site, MySpace, where kids discovered they could connect with all their friends, showing off their favorite bands, arms-length photos of themselves, and be creative with a nightmarish palate of backgrounds and color combinations, with music blaring uncontrollably for often unsuspecting visitors.  This is primarily for kids … and businesses, clubs, or bands that have a young target audience.

At the other end, we have global communities like LinkedIn.Com and, where people’s profiles focus on their profession, their resume.  Nobody cares about your favorite movies or what high school you attended.  This is where job-seekers go, as well as entrepreneurs, authors, politicians, and literally millions of CEOs, VPs, and the like from government agencies and small businesses to multi-nationals and Fortune 500 companies.

In between, we have sites like and, with Facebook near the middle of the current networking universe.  Here you find teens and grandparents, small business owners and professionals.  And guess what?  Vast numbers of the captains of industry you’ll find on more “serious” sites are here, too.  After all, they’re human like the rest of us, with family and friends.  And they recognize the value of the medium professionally.

And this is why different people use different sites – and usually more than one.  I myself have a MySpace (yuck!) just so I could monitor my daughter’s profile and pics when she was younger.  I have a LinkedIn profile where I was recently appointed an administrator of a discussion group on Global Citizenship, but spend most of the time discussing professional issues or discovering the connections of those around me, even building a few new ones now and then – people around the world I would likely never have met in my lifetime otherwise.  My Facebook puts me back in touch with old classmates, keeps me in touch with long-distance family and friends, and is a general social forum to interact casually.

In “real life”, being in many “networks” (personal and professional social groups) extends your reach and knowledge through others.  If you have to, you can ask your child’s dance teacher if they know an accountant they trust, right?  So realize this is the point of belonging to networks online – they are a representation of your social capital, but more importantly they are the best mechanism today for extending your contact world for all reasons, personal and professional.

(2) Know that anyone could be – and probably is – watching.

Some people might decide to have a few too many at their best friend’s wedding.  But they might not want to play the video for their boss or perspective client.  Being causal in a casual environment like Facebook is alright, but be aware that employers and other business people can and do check such sites to find out who personally they are doing business with.

Facebook (and many other sites) have options for controlling who has access to what content.  You can choose to make a video or photo album – or your whole profile (except your “friend” list) – “friends only” so only those in your network can see you making faces in the mirror on a day off.  Ask yourself if what you show or say would be undesirable for professional contacts to see and act accordingly.

Going back to the first point, use each network differently.  You wouldn’t talk about what Harry Potter character best describes your personality during a board meeting, and wouldn’t discuss multi-cultural considerations of business ethics in the gym locker room.  Well, maybe I would, but that’s my problem.  So just as you would introduce yourself differently in a job interview than at lady’s night, focus your profile and other content on what you are using each network for.  Again, use common sense.

(3) Don’t disappear for too long.

Never in history has it been so easy and such a small time commitment to keep in touch and build relationships with people.  If you can’t be bothered to check your online networks at least a couple times a week, you’re back on that bicycle we talked about.  Many people spend far more time than others to get the same results, simply because they grew up on the bike path – it’s the only thing they know.  Face-to-face, truly personal contact is still ideal.  But the world is too big and waits at airport security too long to put all your eggs in that basket.  From marriages to mergers, people have been developing successful and meaningful relationships across fiber optic strands for years, and it’s more and more integral to modern life.

Without writing another article right here and now, here are some hints for keeping in touch with your network:

  • Comment on other people’s posts and photos now and then. Don’t be contrived, but find something meaningful to say that shows you took the time to check on them.  Remember, nearly everything someone does online is an effort to communicate.  Be on the other end.
  • Inform people what you are doing. You don’t have to use your cell phone to “Tweet” (Twitter.Com) every time you turn on the air conditioning or miss a bus, but give people some sense that you are a real human being with a life that isn’t so monotonous a once-a-year weather report over your house suffices.  Post an interesting thought that occurred to you … or a book that really touched you … but don’t feel you have to entertain.  And when you’re looking for something or someone, it’s a way to put the word out.  For example, anyone in my networks knows I am looking to hire – the days of mass emailing everyone you know are coming (gratefully) to an end.  I can’t even imagine mailing or calling all these people individually, let alone the people I don’t know they know.
  • Check your profile from time to time to make sure basic information is up to date. The last thing you want is your former employer accusing you of still representing them, or your spouse wondering why you are still telling the world you’re single.  Log out and see what the world sees – remember that when you are logged in, you have permission to see everything, which could be very different that what others see.
  • In networks where there are discussions – or Question & Answer sections like on LinkedIn – participate from time to time. Just ask or answer one question, or post a few thoughts on someone else’s rant.  Then follow the responses for a couple days, wait a while, rinse, repeat.
  • Remember it’s not a chore that REQUIRES your time. You can be as involved or uninvolved as you want, and let your profile on a site that doesn’t suit your needs sit unused as long as your information is accurate.  Just remember that the benefit is according to effort, like anything else, especially relationship, which is what it is all about.

(4) Just because you can be friends with everyone, doesn’t mean you should.

This is my pet peeve.  The person with the most people in their network when they die … well … is dead anyway, and how many of those people will even know or care to attend the funeral?

Beware of “open networkers” and at all costs DON’T BECOME ONE.  Just like the business card collectors of yore thought the weight of their rolodex was akin to some sort of business virility, some will boast and swear size matters in the digital medium.

But like all things Internet, the rules haven’t changed.  Like a business card, you must look at a “link” or “friend” in your or someone else’s immediate network and ask what is the quality of the relationship being represented by the card or link.  Is there a relationship at all?  The average person knows many dozens or even a hundred people well enough to do more than put a name, face, and occupation together.  Much more is not possible, except in a superficial sense if one has an extraordinary memory for such things.

Let’s hit this point home hard.  Think about this, but don’t do this at home, folks: Ask someone with over 500 “connections” on a business networking site how many of those people would recognize their name and be able to say something they know about them.  But here’s the scary part … how many people in their network are scam artists?  Axe murderers?  How would they even know?

Why should they – and you – care?  Real or not, your connections represent some sort of relationship, and if it is used to connect other people and things go bad, what does that say about you?  Just being in your network is a sort of recommendation.  You will be judged by the friends you keep, so at least know who they are!

You can’t in good faith recommend someone on the fact you found their card at a chamber mixer – or they randomly asked to be your “friend” online – right?  Online or off, you publicly represent yourself in part by your relationships of trust and confidence.  This isn’t a big deal on casual sites where people won’t assume a close relationship, but in more serious sites, a connection should imply (at least most of the time) an actual, real-life working relationship.

So don’t be intimidated.  If you have 50 connections that represent real relationships of trust and confidence, that is probably a more valuable network that people with over 500, simply because the chances are they will “connect” with anyone at the drop of a hat.  And we all knew one or more people in high school like that … it’s a humorous if uncouth comparison, but not without merit.  You can bet most of their “connections” represent nothing more than chance encounters – and are nearly useless compared to yours.

Remember, you set the rules in your life who you spend time with, share secrets with, want to be in business with, want to become friends with.  With some networks, adding a stranger that doesn’t creep you out isn’t a big deal – it’s just fun and you can drop them if they start telling racist jokes or want to show you their cam with a free trial membership.  But in professional-oriented sites, learn to say no.  Don’t kiss on the first date.  Get to know people before you tell the world they are on your team, and decide for each person and network if you know them well enough.

(5) Have fun.  This isn’t a job.  This is your life.  Sure there may be restrictions in some industries (such as financial planning) what you can and can’t publicly say online.  But with multiple networks you can separate (or combine) your personal and professional life as you wish.  And you can discover, maintain, and grow relationships with less time and effort than ever before.  The era of staying out of touch for years is over.  No excuses.

And online networking is so common that if you don’t have any experience, chances are you know several people that do.  Even strangers online tend to want to help others navigate such sites, so always feel free to ask anyone, anytime.  But you learn to swim by being in the water.  Go to a few sites.  Create a profile.  Fill in the information, being as open or private as you want.  Look for people you already know to join the virtual representation of your social sphere.  Then explore, explore, and keep exploring, meeting new people and discovering the contacts you didn’t know your own contacts had.

The superhighway is there waiting for you.  Grab the brass ring.  And follow the Golden Rule: Use common sense to intentionally build professional relationships.  It’s easier and more rewarding than ever.

Stop Tweeting Your @ss Off!


Stop it. You claim to be a successful Internet entrepreneur (“Started by Yale & MIT grad who became an entrepreneur at 10”), yet you break the most basic rule of social media — don’t flood people. Especially with twenty of more “Say of the Day”s in one day.

It kinda looses effect.

It’s Official … TV on Decline

According to the Nelson ratings, this year shows the first year television ownership has actually declined.

Social Media Nearly a Necessity

Avoiding Facebook? Really?

{This was my response to a question on LinkedIn, namely if Facebook should be avoided because some customers may not be using it.}

My clients are often concerned about this, but in reality it is so rare their customers are not on facebook (with only ONE person of ONE client documented as a real case) that it would be silly to not play the social media game.

It would be like YOU not having a telephone because a handful of potential clients might not have one.  It just doesn’t make sense.  There’s almost no way to be “dependent” on it, worrying about people missing out, when it’s not going to be your ONLY medium.  Even if it was, some businesses only advertise on radio with promotions or other information.  That isn’t necessarily a bad decision either and should be seen as reaching a certain audience rather than precluding others. 

But Social media is used more than all other media combined by far, so it you INSIST on putting all your eggs in one basket, it may as well be something like Facebook.

Been in a coma for 15 years?

That’s what it is like if you haven’t mastered using email in your business yet.  The good news is other ways of doing things are just here, and you have another chance to get it right. Brought to you by www.Socialnomics.Com

Text excerpts:

  • By 2010 “Generation Y” will outnumber baby boomers.
  • 96% of them have joined a social network.
  • Social media has overtaken porn as the number one activity on the web.
  • One out of eight couples married in the US last year, met via social media.
  • It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million users; 13 years for TV; for the Internet, four years. Facebook added 100 million users in less than nine months.
  • If Facebook were country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest.
  • 2009, US Department of Education study revealed that on average, online students outperformed those receiving face-to-face instruction. One in six higher education students are enrolled in online curriculum.
  • 80% of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees.
  • The fastest-growing segment on Facebook is 55 to 65-year-old females.
  • Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres has more twitter followers than the entire population of Ireland, Norway and Panama.
  • 80% of twitter usage is on mobile devices people update anywhere, anytime — amazing what that means for bad customer experiences.
  • Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passé — in 2009, Boston College stopped distributing e-mail messages to incoming freshmen.
  • YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, with 100 million videos.
  • Shown in studies to be more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia has over 13 million articles, 78% of which are non-English. If you were paid one dollar for every time an article was posted on Wikipedia. You would earn $156.23 — per hour.
  • There are over 200 million blogs with over half the bloggers posting content or tweeting daily.
  • 25% of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content. A third of bloggers post opinions about products and brands.
  • 78% of consumers trust your recommendations; only 14% trust advertisements.
  • Only 18% of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive ROI. Hulu [Television show archive] has grown from 63 million total streams in April 2008 to 373 million in April 2009. 70% of 18 to 34-year-olds have watched TV on the web. Only 33% have ever viewed a show on DVR/TiVo. 25% of Americans in the past month said they watched of short video — on their phone.
  • 24 of the 25 largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation.
  • More than 1.5 million pieces of content (Web links, new stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared on Facebook — daily.

Successful companies in social media act more like party planners, aggregators, and content providers than traditional advertisers.

Kinda changes things for nearly every business, doesn’t it?