If I had a nickel for every person who thought that "networking" was a dirty word, I'd be a very rich woman. Having a great network of people -- friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances -- is key to having the career and life that you want while avoiding potential back steps and pitfalls. As globalization takes hold and the world flattens, the most vital place to keep your networking/relationship building skills sharp is online. There are a variety of types and styles of social networks to learn about (you should take the time to find out which ones are most relevant to you) to achieve your own goals. For many reasons, Twitter has become the dominant platform for online communication, community building and idea exchange. But online only takes you so far. So how can we take these great digital conversations, networks and friendships and bring them offline to the real world?
Find & Connect with Like-minds Online
One of the most important parts of networking is simply seeing, and being seen. But where does one go online to be "seen"? It's not like a dinner party or conference where you can just look around the room and take the often stomach-turning step toward someone to make a contact. In general, getting involved online doesn't involve any stomach aerodynamics. It's about knowing how to find the kinds of people you are looking for.
On Twitter, users utilize Hashtags (#) as a method for connecting people, near and far, about a topic. Hashtags, for instance, were a significant organizing principle in bringing people together in Egypt's Tahrir Square that lead to the Arab Spring. Hashtags have also become a staple of spreading the word, making commentary and cheering along with everything from conferences and political events to summer concerts and the Olympics. As part of my work in career management, I regularly participate in Twitter chats like #HFChat (Hire Friday Chat, Fridays at 12noon ET). Together we discuss topics that help and give ideas to job seekers around the world. Participating in Twitter chats such as this is one of the reasons that Twitter has become a powerful business tool as opposed to just a social platform.
Finding Twitter Chats
To meet people online, you need to find interesting Twitter chats to join. I use a public Google document called Twitter Chat Schedule. Think of it as the TV Guide of Twitter chats—a comprehensive and growing guide to chats that are happening all around the world. Topics range from the African Lovers Cinema chat (#AfroCinephile, 11 AM - 12noon ET the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month) to Small Biz Chat (#SmallBizChat Tuesdays 7-8pm CT) and everything in between.
Once you’ve found a topic that you’re interested in, it’s time to engage. How can you make this happen? First you need to learn how to participate in a Twitter chat.
1. Find a Twitter chat that interests you using the Twitter Chat Schedule
2. At the designated time of the chat, go to Twitter.com and enter #ChatNameHere in the search box (replace ChatNameHere with the name of the chat you want to join—and don’t forget the # in front of the name)
3. A list will appear on your screen. It will be every person in the world who is currently writing Tweets that contain #[ChatNameHere]. You’re in! You are now viewing an online conversation.
Listen & Engage
So you’re “in the room” and it seems like Tweets are coming in faster than you can handle it. Don’t panic. Learning how to read asynchronous conversation is hard, and takes some getting used to.
1. Spend your first session watching the flow of the conversation. Look for any "rules" of the chat that one of the organizers might post.
2. See if you can figure out who is posing the topics (usually designated by Q1 for question 1, Q2 for question 2 etc.) and who is posting answers (A1 answers Q1, A2 answers Q2 etc.). It may seem confusing at first because many threads of conversation are happening at once.
3. See if you can pick out who the regular contributors are (especially if you like what they're saying). They’re the ones who are often greeting each other in friendly rapport.
4. When you’re ready, pick out someone who seems engaged and friendly and wait for them to submit something that compels you to want to comment.
5. In the box for that item, click the Reply link. Add your comment and remember to include #ChatNameHere as part of your response (otherwise it won’t show up on the conversation thread). You only get 140 characters so it’s good to be a quick study of Twitter abbreviations which you can find at Social Media Today.
6. Watch for replies or RT (retweets) of your posts and make sure to come back the next week and participate a little more. If you're making smart and relevant comments, you acquire some new followers!
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow...
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