Are You Using Your Connections or Networking?


Social media platforms have at their heart the attraction of building contacts; LinkedIn its connections that you can forge with those you know and those you’d like to know. In the case of Facebook, users identify these connections as friends, with Twitter its followers. So are you using your connections or networking?

I want to contrast two experiences for the purpose of this piece, friends on Facebook and connections on LinkedIn. There are a number of people out there who know and use both, and there are more people out there who THINK they know both but only use one or the other. I imagine too there is a whole group of people who think they too know one or the other but don’t use them whatsoever. The prime two reasons for not using social media would be either ignorance or a lack of accessibility / technology.

Facebook tends to be where people post pictures of themselves, share what they are up to for the evening, plans for the weekend. The platform allows users to share their likes, and tell their friends about parties coming up, invite others to join them, sharing events in their lives. You can adjust settings and let a select few view your photos and information or you can expose your thoughts and pictures to anyone visiting your page. You could even turn your page into a business marketing tool.

LinkedIn by contrast, isn’t so much about friends. What it is about is connecting with and nurturing professional connections. Your personal page is termed a profile, and you can manage it with options like including a photo, a summary statement of who you are, a tagline that both brands and establishes how you want to position yourself in the world. You can accumulate endorsements of your professional skills, recommendations from those whom you’ve helped or worked alongside. And you can join discussion groups on topics you find of interest, companies you are interested in, issues that matter to you.

With respect to friends on Facebook, the demographic tends to be that new users are young, often starting out in their pre-teens. As they age, they exploit it to learn about people they meet in real life and stay in contact with, while at the same time, sharing about themselves. They learn quickly how to restrict some content from certain users; their parents, relatives etc., but allow access to their closest friends. Every so often something gets beyond what they can control, and you’ve got the problem of sensitive information or photos being circulated to an audience they were never intended for. As users age, they often retain their account but use it less than they did as young adults, or leave it altogether or checking in weekly or monthly instead of daily or hourly.

LinkedIn users tend to be professionals, job seekers, recruiters, business leaders, etc. who are taking advantage of the technology to establish and grow their network of contacts. It’s more than an on-line resume. Building a reputable profile is a key element to attracting the audience you seek. If seeking employment, keep in mind that employers will check out your LinkedIn page to see what you’ve accomplished, what your colleagues and business connections are saying about you via their recommendations. And when someone endorses your skills, they don’t do so anonymously, so the credibility of those endorsements rises. Things like spelling, grammar, choice of photo, past employment all rise in significance because the audience is different from Facebook.

So focusing on LinkedIn, how are you taking advantage of all these connections you have? I suspect that like me, you may have been contacted by someone wishing to connect with you and immediately they are asking you for help to land a job. This is typically a poor attempt because a first contact that says, “Give me something” is less than successful. After all, even if you did know of a job opportunity, where is your credibility in passing along a job lead to someone you know absolutely nothing about?

The best job seekers who make use of LinkedIn, don’t ‘use’ their connections as much as they network their contacts. They build relationships, take an interest in both giving and receiving information about the people they are connecting with. There are some people like me that recognize someone who only wants something but offers nothing in return, but choose to help anyway. But there are more that may not appreciate these actions. So rather than using other people just to forward your own career, network! Start a conversation and ask your connections questions just as you might face-to-face. What do you find rewarding? How did you get started in this line of work? Look at their profile and remark on something you find interesting or want clarified. Then by all means move to requesting feedback on your own profile, possibly seeking further connections and recommendations.

Most people don’t appreciate being used only. I have found most profitable those with whom I dialogue, get to know, come to respect and read with interest their comments in discussion groups. From these people I learn; there is a wealth of expertise just itching to be tapped into. So if I may, reach out to some people and network with a thought to what you can add, contribute and share as well as take away, instead of only ‘what can I exploit’ or ‘what’s in it for me’.

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