Social network basics on a chalkboard

Make friends and influence people using professional social networks

Millions of people have professional social network profiles but only a small percentage really know how to use them. Wayne Gibbins, director of professional social network Viadeo argues that students should start early and use their social skills to win jobs, business, friends and influence people online.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index this month revealed that employees see personal branding as the key to career development and differentiation. While this idea is not particularly new, the self-promotional tools have changed, although many respondents in the Kelly survey cited traditional ‘offline’ methods (“written and verbal communication skills, as well as a well-written CV and their attire”) over online social networking.

This is a surprise. Professional social networking should be a part of the self-promotional mix, not just because it is a shop window to millions of other users but also because it is part and parcel of growing a reputation both online and offline. According to Kiron Ravindran, Professor of Information Systems of the IE Business School in Madrid, a firm’s social capital offers a likely measure of its trustworthiness and he applies this to individuals too.

Perhaps there is a problem of perception? Facebook is a great tool but is it a professional tool? Stories about Facebook being used by employers to check-up on the habits of potential employees - as well as current employees - have been well circulated. However, talk of Facebook now pushing towards professional networking is perhaps a little misguided. Technically Facebook is more than capable but its image and content is personal use and consumer, not business.

Use professional social networks to your advantage

For students, engaging with professional social networking at an early stage has its advantages. Developing an online profile and reputation can only enhance employment prospects especially given the fact that many employers look for 2:1 degrees or above. Applying for jobs with a network of online contacts under your wing will help both in terms of finding work and being a viable candidate.

Start by connecting with lecturers, course mates, guest speakers and industry contacts and then use the network to find contacts for placement years or internships. From there you can move onto a graduate job hunt, both looking for jobs but also identifying useful contacts and friends of friends who work in companies you like the look of. Think of it as a large interactive directory of potential employment opportunities.

By 2015, 500m professionals will be on social networks and much of this growth will be in developing economies such as China, India and Brazil. By this stage, professional social networks will have evolved into business platforms on which local and international business communications will be managed and business leads and partnerships will be created.

Nurture relationships

Online networking should be seen as an extension of offline networking, a way to keep in touch with those contacts nurtured at parties and networking events. Creating online links and then engaging with them through regular communication, either in forums, groups or directly (or even through a linked Twitter feed) can help to maintain contacts and keep any individual fresh within their minds. Anyone who is seen to be proactive, seen to have a deep understanding of their industry plus a willingness to be open, approachable and communicative is going to do well both offline and online.

We are at an early stage in the development of professional networks. Over time, their influence will grow and be a major source of managing an online as well as offline reputation. This is where you build trust and with trust comes opportunities for new business as well as career development. For students and young people starting their careers, an active online professional profile, sooner rather than later would undoubtedly bring rewards and in time, could be the difference between losing and winning jobs.

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