Please note that these are my own thoughts and biases, so I willingly accept all criticism, skepticism, and responsibility surrounding the following assertions.There is often confusion to new comers to the social media scene about the differences among all the various resources available. In particular, there is often frustration in understanding the nuances between social networking and professional networking platforms. Professional networking sites include TalentBar, EngineeringExchange, HRMToday, PPMNG, and of course the industry leader, LinkedIn. The major distinguishing feature of Professional Networking platforms is that they are focused solely on connecting people for the purpose of doing business. While profile pages on social networking sites often include information about your likes, dislikes, pets, favorite music, etc., the profiles on most Professional Networking sites read more like resumes and work histories. As an unabashed fan of LinkedIn and other professional networking sites, I find tremendous value in them, but also understand the limitations.
I see three main areas of benefit for these platforms- Business Development, Career Transition, and Access to Expertise. Professionals looking to do business can join networks where potential customers, vendors, or partners are coming together. For example, if you're interested in selling to recruiters, you may find Recruitingblogs to be a valuable social media to participate in. If you do business with engineers, you'll be well-served to join the EngineeringExchange. By participating in these resources, which I'll discuss further below, you can build an online reputation for you and your company, and identify who key influencers and decision makers are. Most resources work hard to build the core of the membership as actual professionals with expertise in one area, but understand the value of having vendors and partners involved in the dialogue as well.
For Career Transition, Professional Networking sites allow individuals to make and develop connections to people that can be leveraged to gain access to interviews. For example, if you're looking for work in HR, you may want to join HRMToday, and connect with other HR professionals who may either be hiring for their department, or willing to share tips on job openings they know of. You also may want to join other groups, and connect with hiring managers or employees at other levels in the company. The connections can be developed and leveraged to help you gain access to the right hiring decision makers. Through active and thoughtful participation, you can actually build quite a personal brand and strong network to help you find your next great job. Sites such as LinkedIn can help you keep what is essentially an online resume updated, and you can add to it and share with others as needed.
The last main benefit is Access to Expertise. This is the benefit that I find to be of most value. Through these platforms, you can easily find industry experts, thought leaders, and trend influencers. Through forums and Q&A formats within these platforms, you can share and gain knowledge from professionals around the world. The amount of information that members are willing to share is closely tied to how much you're willing to contribute. You have to remember that these organizations are very similar to a chamber of commerce or a local trade association, in that you need to establish yourself, and show that you're interested in being an involved member.
As I've stated, the value of these professional networking resources is determined by your level of thoughtful participation. Nearly all of these types of platforms allow you to ask questions, begin and comment on discussions, add blog posts, or join chats. If you wish to be taken seriously, you need to choose which networks to join, and commit to being an active member. Not only should you start a discussion from time to time, but you should look through discussions posted by others, and share comments. It's important to remember that every time you add any piece of content, you're affecting your online reputation. Long term success is always based on trust and respect.
Before adding content, always ask yourself this simple question: How will this content affect my reputation?As with any social media resource, there are also important drawbacks to consider. By being an online resource, people have the chance to create false fronts. Be sure to check on the profiles of people you network with, see who they are connected with, and follow their content as you try to determine whether or not to connect. You also have to be careful to remember that your information becomes public within that forum, opening you up to spammers.
Overall, for professionals who are looking to build their knowledge base, or for businesses looking to build brand awareness, professional networking sites offer significant value. These are not the resources to push your personal ideologies or share information about your pets or hobbies. Be sure that as you engage, you remain disciplined in how you participate, and remember that online professional networking sites require patience and dedication just like live networking groups and associations.
I hope this helps a little. Coming soon- Social Networking Bucket #1: Social Networking.