How to Use Social Networking to Succeed in Business

In the current business climate, networking is at the nexus of technology, the customer, and true innovation, and it's about time you put your heart and soul into it. In short, it's time to get on board with social or get left behind.

In this day and age you wouldn't think the importance of networking and social media in many job roles and industries would need to be explained. Regrettably, there are many in senior IT management that are underutilizing what has become a necessary part of work-life in the digital age. Across the globe companies are part of a growing digital transformation of the business world and social networking, both online and off.

"Networking as an executive in any profession or industry is possibly one of the most valuable ways to build credibility both personally and professionally. It won't happen naturally and requires significant investments both in time and fostering business relationships, but can yield long lasting return on investment both in business, leveraging referrals, new business, and opportunities to advance your own career," says Laura McGarrity, Vice President of Marketing at Mondo, an IT sourcing and staffing firm.

The importance of networking both online and offline.

Employment Opportunities

If nothing else motivates you about social networking then consider this -- The days of working for one or even two companies for your entire career have all but gone away. Those days have given way to a world where CIOs last on average four to five years while IT pros average somewhere around three. Looking for a job is hard work and takes a long time. In surveys, a majority of people find their next position via an introduction through networking. What that means is that social media and social networking have become woven into the fabric of the job search process. In addition that reality, there are other compelling reasons to join in.

Immediate Feedback

Finding your next job is one reason but there are a few more for CIOs and IT managers to consider, such as immediate feedback. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have given people who care enough to get involved and interact at a one-on-one level with their customers, their peers and their staff. Places like Twitter require a tough skin, but the payoff is honest feedback from the people who use your service or product.

Services like Twitter offer almost immediate feedback, which comes in handy when a new product, service or feature is launched. Sage IT managers and CIOs monitor these places to see how their user base is reacting and interacting to their new launches. "Twitter is a tremendous asset for tech professionals. It feeds the need for instantaneous response," says Shravan Goli, President of Dice.

Building your Dream Team

Hiring IT pros has become increasingly difficult, as headhunters and staffing firms can be cost-prohibitive for some businesses. But thanks to places like LinkedIn, SpiceWorks and various job boards there are more places than ever to look for fresh talent.

LinkedIn is especially helpful in finding the passive candidates for your team, allowing you to search for people by geography, years of experience and various skills, among other things. "I use LinkedIn to connect with others, whether it be potential candidates for a job opening I may have, vendors, usually through group discussions, or with other IT leaders," says Jeffrey Hurley, Vice President and Head of Technology for Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Creating a Collaborative Environment

In order to innovate, companies need to create more collaborative user-friendly environments. Social media and the Web are providing the tools to make that happen. More teams are staying connected with suites like Campfire, Yammer and other online collaboration tools. To stay relevant you need to be where the innovation happens, and if it's in one of these collaboration suites, then you better get involved or get left behind.

Being an Industry Thought Leader

How will people know about your genius if you aren't out there sharing your experiences in places like LinkedIn Groups, Twitter, Quora and other communities? Whatever you do, whatever industry you are in, the Internet has a place for you to interact with like-minded professionals that facilitate collaboration and sharing. So don't be shy, get out there and start asking and answering questions. Demonstrate through your postings that you are an engaged and informed leader that knows what's going on within your specific industry. "You can raise your profile in other ways too - answering questions on Stack, contributing to an Open Source project, marketing your own open source project on SourceForge. With the new recruiting tools that aggregate information, recruiters are expecting to see passion related to your work. So, I recommend tech professionals do something to show that commitment to their craft," says Goli.

Social Networking Online

While there are thousands of articles that cover the various ways to network on the different social networks available, the problem according to career coach and strategist Donald Burns, is a lack of focus. Many people fall into the trap of blindly networking with everyone when the key is to be more focused. "...many people start 'networking' because they've been ordered to do so--beaten over the head to keep networking--but just connecting with people is not enough. You must be connecting with people to reach a target. In my humble opinion, that's the problem with 'networking', people aren't clear about what they're after. When a job seeker has a clear target, a red-hot passionate, well-defined position at a particular company - then connecting with the right people is much easier," says Burns.

Start a Blog or Column

Many of us work in our various industries with the intention to become thought leaders. Writing a blog is great way to share your knowledge, insight and show off your troubleshooting prowess. "Creating content is a powerful way to build your personal and professional brand online," says McGarrity. When most of us are interested in doing something new, one of the first things we do is search the Web to find someone who has been down this road before to get an idea of what to expect.

"Have a content strategy. Create content, share data, multimedia, photos, and engage in conversation with original content creators. Relevancy and frequency is the name of the game. Have a goal, be transparent, be conversational, be YOU, and get engaged," says McGarrity.

There are various outlets you can use but most experts agree that having your own branded site, especially in the technology world, is the best way to go.

Offline Networking

Social media is a great tool but it's important to remember that is not all done from behind a desk. That is only one of the fronts in the battle to remain relevant. Ultimately, nothing is better than meeting someone face to face. Our experts encourage you to get out there and start building your professional network in person.

"Networking online is great when you are looking for macro trends or just making high level connections. However, going offline and meeting face-to-face allows you go deeper with individuals. I look at online networking as 'casting a net' and offline (F2F) networking as 'spear fishing.' When you go wide, you get to see what others are talking about and what challenges they have, but when you are offline that is really when you get into the details," says Tushar Patel, Vice President of Marketing for Innotas, a company that specializes in IT Project and Portfolio Management Services.

Join Professional Organizations

Organizations like Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or CIO's own Executive Council offer yet another opportunity to connect with people within your particular industry or area of interest.

Local Workshops and Meetups

These types of get-togethers are great when you are familiarizing yourself with a new technology or learning about developmental and feature updates. In groups like Drinks on Tap, Meetup.com and other sites that promote real world networking, you'll find people there who spend their days in the trenches of whatever technology interests you. These situations also afford the opportunity to meet people with similar interests or goals. Talking to people at this level can help you avoid costly mistakes down the road.

"I prefer smaller environments like meetups, LinkedIn Groups, or local networking clubs. I actually think that networking outside of your industry is a great way to bring differentiation to your industry," says Patel. Attend senior-level workshops, classes or webinars, whatever it is that interests you or drives your passion. Get out there and continue learning and sharing.

Advance your Degree

Many people might not count going back to school as a networking opportunity, but they would be dead wrong according to our experts. "While I was working at Microsoft, I got my part-time MBA. While it was hard to balance the time, I was able to build some valuable relationships as part of that experience. You don't really have to do full graduate programs--you can go to a class at locally well-known places and you will always meet interesting people, either folks who come to give guest lectures or other professionals," says Goli.

Not only can you further educate yourself, potentially providing more career opportunities and value, but you often meet people who may be potential job candidates or who can provide future job opportunities. "I cannot count how many times I was connected to someone or received a job offer through a post-graduate studies connection. You can meet people anywhere, it does not have to be a full blown degree program. Take a class, attend a seminar, or go where other like-minded people are, and you will naturally network with new people because you are starting off with something in common," says Patel.

Visiting and networking with companies in your industry who are shaking things up is a great way to glean information and learn more about your industry as whole. "I visit companies that are doing interesting things. If you are genuinely interested in what others are doing, they are usually very interested in discussing it," says Goli.

Final Thoughts

In a world where things are constantly changing, like business models, people and technology, social media and networking have become a necessary part of the formula for success. To stay relevant in the upper echelons of the tech world requires a commitment to learning and the ability to engage others where ever they may be, whether it's your development team, the board room, a conference or a meetup.

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Rich Hein is Managing Editor for CIO.com. He covers IT careers.

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