The definition of networking has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, quickly changing from face-to-face event hopping, to mastering your presence in social media. Thanks to technology, professionals and ambitious teens have many more opportunities to build relationships. This gives us access to find almost every individual we want to. The challenge is the same: to indentify the right contacts and build real relationships.
From a Gen X perspective…Remember those Little White Rectangles?
You might see a seasoned professional handing out little rectangles of paper called business cards. No doubt that’s a member of Generation X. A successful Generation X rose up the ranks through face-to-face networking – in airports, at cocktail parties, conferences of their profession, industry events – and working each contact by schmoozing, calling, meeting and subsequently emailing (a win).
Networking was a no-brainer, a must-do if you wanted to grow or change your career. Thus, to be successful you have to constantly work on your image, focus on how you position yourself “in the room”, have good body language (i.e. stand outward), and make eye contact. Because we’re used to connecting on a more personal level, we are in search of making “real relationships”.
Nowadays, online requests from a stranger are usually ignored, though that may be a FOMO for Gen X. We remain skeptical and discriminatory about who we connect with so we stick to safer spaces like LinkedIn and Facebook. Gen X is adaptable to learning virtual networking as it is today, so Gen X has taken well, a pragmatic approach, to networking in today’s modern room.
Generation X in a Generation Z Room
Gen X realizes that technology has enabled networking to go from timely and for some, intimidating, to offering endless opportunities, if done right. Think of social media as a giant stadium, filled with an audience holding up signs making it easier to identify a potential contact (back when there were no signs).
Can we build genuine connections through social media? Certainly, and it’s all about making the right plays when you engage in each kind of social media. So how do we do this right?
1. Make a strong and consistent first impression
Gen Z uses an 8-second filter to scan information, and this applies to scanning for connections too. Gen Y and Gen X are beginning to scan that quickly as well. Your profile may seem to be “good enough” to you, but to the infinite audience, it’s who you are to them. Because so much of connecting is online, we are judged based on what’s visible to others. Think of your profile as the way you look at an in-person networking event. Invest time in constantly maintaining your image, e.g. with a professional photo. Each profile needs to be the same across all social media, same image and same titles, etc… No one appreciates multiple personalities online and offline.
2. Use social media like a Gen Z
Pick up to three social media apps and immerse yourself in making connections with, on top of the obvious ones, others who share your profession, share a passion for the same cause, or are even remotely in your industry. Follow brands and industry leaders that resonate with the professional in you. Spend time on each app every day to appear committed, otherwise your new friends will drop you. Don’t be afraid to make a statement or reveal your opinion about a circumstance related to your profession, it’s another way to connect. Also, if you’re physically attending an event, a conference or a social event, go to the right app and screen the person digitally as you stand next to them physically (they won’t know). Be cool.
3. Pick the right social media channels
According to hbr.org, “People are hungry for real conversations and real relationships.” Connecting virtually with little human interaction is not for everyone. The majority of professionals want to make an authentic connection, one that might build and last. HBR suggests going to a “target rich area” to enhance your chances of making the right connections.
Online networking is analogous to the flirting that leads up to a real relationship, connecting instantly yet carefully. Every social media space has its own reputation, its own positioning of opportunities in the endless landscape of virtual connections. For example:
- Twitter for the initial connection, the introduction where you identify a person you have something in common with.
- LinkedIn for the professional connection only. LinkedIn is the virtual equivalent of an industry conference, connections run a little deeper and more professional than other spaces
- Facebook for personal connection only with potential if professions match
If you follow the above approach to modern networking, you’ll realize that finding true connections is easier and more efficient. The room of networking opportunities has exploded in size, but honestly, the same social skills apply – watch what you say, don’t talk to strangers and always make a good impression. Working in your pajamas might be comfortable but no CEO got to where they are by hiding behind a screen in their home. Get out there, however you can.