How To Network On Social Media Without Being Unprofessional

Friday, March 19, 2021

Photo by Nicola Styles via Unsplash

Everyone's constantly online now, right? So, what's a better time to develop new relationships with people in our respective industries than when we are more connected virtually than ever? Spoiler: there really isn't a better time.

On this week's episode of my IGTV series, Network From Home, I FaceTimed with my friend Cortne Bonilla, who currently works at Vox Media and previously at Refinery29, Moda Operandi, Harper's Bazaar, and more (and surprise! We met through Instagram). She shares all the tips she’s learned from using social media as a networking tool and her best advice for fostering virtual connections. Here's what she suggests for turning social media connections into real-life connections.

1. Network before you need to network

A mentor of mine previously told me that the most valuable time to network is when you don't need to network. Networking to develop genuine relationships without needing anything in return is so much more effective than messaging a stranger and telling them you want a job.

To foster these relationships before you actually need them, Cortne recommends doing the following:
  • Interact with their posts
  • Show interest in the person by asking them questions about what they do
  • Compliment them on things other than their work

Reminder: Worst case scenario you don't get a response, they don't follow you back, or they simply say they don't have the time.

2. Develop relationships without expectation

That's not to say you shouldn't network when you do need something but at that point, you don't want to set high expectations. It's great to make connections at any point but you also don't want it to be a one-sided relationship in which you are only taking from them and not giving anything in return.

3. Keep initial interactions light

Too many compliments or messages before you have an established relationship may come across as a bit pushy and end up cutting the connection before it even begins. Avoid constant messages or follow-ups and just be chill about it — if they haven't responded it's likely because they've been busy or got side-tracked. Don't take it personally or overthink it.

4. Follow the "rules" of professional DMs

DMs aren't just for sliding into your crush's inbox. When used professionally they can be a great tool to connect with people in your industry but make sure you're following proper etiquette:

  • Keep them appropriate
  • Don't send them constantly, especially if you haven't even received a response
  • Ask if they prefer to connect via email and then get their email address

5. Don't follow and unfollow those who don't follow you back

If you follow someone and they don't follow you back immediately, don't unfollow them. Follow the networking tips above (tip #1: interact, show interest, compliment, and #5: DM) to begin natural exchanges. Eventually, once you have a rapport, they'll probably follow you back.

6. Practice "mindful engagement"

This is key, Cortne shares, because if you're too pushy or forward it'll be a turnoff. Going overboard with comments and DMs will go from professional and friendly to inappropriate and weird really quickly. Use your best judgment to set boundaries.

7. Look for new people to follow in your industry

Regularly following new people to expand your circle is important. To do so:

  • See who your industry friends are following
  • Check mastheads or author pages to look up writers whose work you read
  • Find your favorite companies' LinkedIn pages to discover employees to connect with on social media

8. Use Twitter to engage more one on one without having to DM

Twitter is a great social media network to use for more one-on-one interactions that aren't private. Reply casually to their tweets and/or tweet some of their work you love and tag them so they can retweet or respond.

9. Ask your new industry friends to connect over Zoom, FaceTime, or even coffee (post-pandemic or outdoors)

Once you've established that rapport and they're following you back, it's completely appropriate to ask them to connect for a virtual coffee — or wait until after the pandemic or whenever you can meet outside when it's warmer.

10. If people in your industry tend to interact less on Instagram or Twitter, connect on LinkedIn.

Not every industry has the same rules around connecting on Instagram and Twitter so if you're not in a creative field where this is likely most socially acceptable, consider keeping interactions on LinkedIn unless the person you are trying to connect with has an obviously public social media presence.

Reminder: Avoid requesting to follow any private or personal social media accounts of anyone you don't know

11. Use LinkedIn as a tool to find things to bond with future connections over

Regardless of the industry, you're in, though, LinkedIn is always an excellent option for connecting with others. Even if you aren't using it to connect, it's also a great way to find out a bit more about others' education/work backgrounds, which can give you things to connect on, like alma mater or previous jobs.

12. Join relevant LinkedIn and Facebook networking groups

Niche LinkedIn groups are often amazing places to form direct connections, learn about job posts in your specific field, and even get emails from people who may make valuable connections, Cortne says. Similarly, Facebook has many groups that make connecting with others on a topic (like writing, freelancing, marketing, and more) easy.

13. Remember that "people respect boldness because most people aren't bold."

Cortne's final piece of advice to "be bold" is exactly what we needed to hear. Put yourself out there and you'll likely be surprised by the response you'll get. "People respect boldness."

Check out my IGTV to watch the full interview with Cortne Bonilla.