Saturday, July 16, 2011

10 top tips for using social media for successful networking, connecting and learning

On Thursday I had the pleasure of talking to the Social Media Club Gold Coast about my experiences of social media, and how it has helped me connect, learn and hook into opportunities that otherwise would not come my way.

While I was reflecting on my presentation, I came up with my top 10 tips for using social media to connect with people and broaden your horizon.

1. Be prepared to give time to networking and don't expect things to happen over night
I have been privileged to have made wonderful friends, connect with learning opportunities and go places such as Pakistan, all as a result of my use of social media. But it does take time. So I see the time as a worth-while investment into my professional development and future career.

2. Be consistent about how you 'brand' yourself
I have made a strategic decision to brand myself 'Sarah Stewart'...professional person...midwife, researcher and educator. That is how I am found on Google. To do this I use 'Sarah Stewart' on all my social media accounts so that I have a greater chance of being found when people do a Google Search. Again, this takes time and careful thought. It also means I have to behave in a professional way so I do not compromise my branding.

3. Be open
I take a very open approach to my digital identity and social media presence but I recognize that would not be everyone's cup of tea. However, it has worked with me for various reasons. People realise that what they see is what they get. This has made it a lot easier to connect with people, especially when I go on to meet them face-to-face. I feel very human to them which facilitates our communication. I do not publish very personal details such as my bank account details but being open actually protects my identity. It is so easy to track who I am and what I do that it would be difficult for anyone to take my work and pass off for their own.

4. Focus on what you can give as opposed to what you can receive
If you start to use social media because you think you will immediately make money... gain customers...become're going to be bitterly disappointed. You will only reap what you sow. So you've got to spend time with people and spread the love. Once you do that, then you will start to benefit from your connections.

5. Focus on quality, not quantity
For the life of me, I cannot understand why people drive to get so many followers or friends on Facebook, Twitter and so on. The number of followers you have means nothing. You can bet your bottom dollar that at least half of them are marketers or spammers. Social networking is about conversation and interaction. It's much more effective and productive to have meaningful conversations with 100 followers than face total silence with 10,000 followers.

6. Be authentic
This relates back to my point about being open. If you pretend to be something that you are not on Twitter or Facebook, you will be caught out and you'll lose all your credibility. Have a look at this post I wrote to get a better sense of what I'm talking about: I am only human.

7. Practice what you preach
You've got to experience social media and social networking to know what it can do. It's no good just talking about've got to do it.

8. Always respond to people when they contact you
I cannot bear it when I talk to people on Twitter and Facebook or leave comments on people's blogs and then they do not reply. It's like going up to someone in the street and talking to them and being completely ignored. If you do that, you will quickly find that people do not return to your site and then you lose opportunities for engagement. I have found it incredible what opportunities come out of the smallest (and what seems unlikely) conversations.

9. Have a blog and Twitter account
I know a lot of people think blogs have passed their use-by date, but I still consider my blog to be my digital 'home' where I have my most in-depth conversations, and where I do my most constructive thinking and processing. However, if you have a blog and use it in-frequently people will think you do not 'live' there anymore, and will not continue to 'visit' you. I see Twitter as a vital tool for synchronous connection, and again, advise that you post at least one comment a day so people see the person behind the account.

10. Use a license on your “stuff” so that people can share and re-use it
I use a Creative Commons license - usually By Attribution. I feel strongly if if I share my stuff via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and Slideshare, that I contribute to a global body of knowledge that people can make use of.

I have found the 'pay it forward' approach to social networking to be an extremely effective approach to connecting, networking and learning and highly recommend you try it out.

What are your tips for effective networking, connecting and learning using social media?

Image: 'Talking Girls-- Edit 2'

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