Navigating online networking

On using the internet to build relationships, explore new worlds, and meet people outside of your geographic boundaries.

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Talking to strangers on the internet, (sorry, mom).

If you’re like many millennials, you probably were told not to talk to strangers on the internet and were given some lectures about how the internet is filled with creepers who most likely want to kill you and you’ll be the inspiration for whatever crime show is having endless reruns on daytime TV.

My mother is still a bit skeptical when I tell her I have internet friends, or that a large part of my career has been made because of these connections. But at some point I can’t blame her, even a few years ago, I’d be shocked the people that I’ve met, or opportunites I’ve been granted because of the internet.

I partly blame the lack of authenticity that often happens online, we’re quick to polish ourselves up, to put on our “most perfect” selves, and worry about our ~personal brand~. Heck, in my undergraduate degree, it’s what we were taught. Fake it til you make it, and build your brand among other crap I’m embarrassed to admit (I even think I had aspiring media guru in my bio at one point *shudders*).

linkedin - Hahahah :) alter ego - devRant

Fortunately, we’re moving beyond that now, and we’ve left some of this branding to people selling real estate on LinkedIn (sorry). But that in mind, how do we share our skills, without seeming too full of it, or just coming across as someone who would love to connect with you? What’s the benefit of building your audience? And how can I use social media not just for cat photos, but to actually help my career?

What I wish someone told me in those ~personal branding~ classes (and how to be more YOU online!)

In an online world with a thousand different pieces of advice on how to network, and how that looks a little differently in a global pandemic, there’s quite a few different ways you can go about this. And some of it is downright cringey.

Part of the reason why is that it all looks the same. We’re seeing people practice “being authentic” by being exactly like the person next to them. Not sure when we all decided that we loved millennial pink, #girlboss, and Tim Ferriss, but if you looked at our online lives, so many people looked so much the same.

Let’s throw out what we’re supposed to like and what’s trendy and not be afraid of operating to the beat of our own drum.

Need an extra hand, may I refer you to Meg Lewis?

Queen of design, branding, and creator of Full Time You, I’ve been fortunate enough to work through her workbook, and found it a good exercise in who I really am, vs what things I’m aesthetically drawn to on the internet: hint: one changes by the week and the other is on a longer-term growth directory. The most important part about a personal brand, it has to be personal.

Personal but not not professional either.

Where the heck did we get the phrase, to whom this may concern? Like to whom my ass. Who talks like that in a normal conversation? It’s phrases like this that grind my gears when it comes to networking online, and I’m not the only one. Can we stop with the per my last emails, the par for the course, and most definitely with the viral marketing. I’m not saying we throw professionalism out the window, but there’s a difference between professionalism and roboticism.

And this goes for the cold DM as well. John Biggs puts it better than I could say it myself 👇

“As I’ve said before and will say forever: selling and PR and gathering customers is about being a human. You say “Hey, I have a question,” you asked it when prompted, and you wait for a response. Sometimes it never comes. You move on.…If you’re going to network with me (or anyone else) you’re going to have to try something different. You’re going to have to try to be human.”
- John Biggs on Hackernoon on “LinkedIn Sucks”

Too quick we rely on professional jargon, and not actually being ourselves. I want to work with people not other robots.

But, what if I’m weird?

First off, we’re all a little weird. Myself included. Recently I’ve started reading “Weird in a World That’s Not” and despite my usual annoyance with self-helpish business books from people who have their shit together, I very much enjoy this one. The reason I like it, Jennifer Romolini, the author, had her moments. She screwed up, she made mistakes, and she made it, and that’s whats important.

Looking back at my own career path, there were mistakes made, there were lessons learned, and if you’re looking at your own career path thinking you never made a mistake, then I have news for you, you’re probably not pushing your own personal limits.

Again, I reference the paragraph before, be weird, it’s okay. That’s what makes you human. But more importantly, be good at what you do, be willing to try, to learn, to listen, to speak up, to strive to be the best. And well, if you can’t do that, start looking for a different role.

“Being great will soften your weirdness; it will earn you patience and accommodation from your bosses and peers. Being great at work, putting in the effort, will help you build a solid long-lasting career, one with more power and opportunities over time. Even when you think no one is watching, good people, kind people, smart people, the senior people you want to work with and for, recognize this kind of work. We see you.”

Jennifer Romolini - Weird in a World That’s Not.

Don’t be afraid of being weird, be afraid of being unwilling to learn, grow, be kind, be smart, etc. And that’s more important overall.

Okay, let’s get to the active networking part

Are you new to the Twittersphere? Maybe you’re looking to leverage your Instagram? What about that Linkedin? Regardless of the platform, the tactics may vary slightly — but at the end of the day, the content remains the same; honest, real, helpful content will shine brightest in connections.

There’s a great post by Ashlee Boyer who helps go over how to network on twitter, and she goes over much of the same thing:

“My biggest is advice is this: just put yourself out there. Be unapologetically authentic. If people like you, great. If not, it's just the internet. You're (hopefully) not there just to impress strangers. If you're not hurting anyone, keep moving forward and being yourself.”
- Ashlee Boyer

Stuck on “but what if I’m not an interesting person and not sure what to put out there?" Here’s some quick tips:

  • Learn in public, share what you’re learning

  • Comment on articles: did someone create something you love? Great! Tell them.

  • Share things with friends/people who may like them — you’re being helpful online

  • Share what you’re doing: have a newsletter? Great! Starting a side project? Tell me!

You’ll find that this goes beyond your professional life. You’ll make friends, meet new people, and learn about things you’d never thought you’d learn about — all thanks to the internet.

In this weeks toolkit:

Each week, outside of the deep dive, I’ll be sending out a toolkit showing you my favorite platforms and resources for learning and networking online.

From slack channels I love, discord tools that excite me, and people I admire online.
Is there a topic that you’d like to see me breakdown? Shoot me an email!

Media Hackers is a project built by Erin Mikail focused on how we can use tech tools to create better media businesses.

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