Don’t wait until you graduate or have enough money saved up to attend a big networking conference. Here’s how to network on social media as a student.
You’ve heard it before – it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. And if you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know we encourage our readers to start networking while they’re still students, so that by the time they graduate, they’ll have a competitive advantage and be able to land the best jobs.
Social media is a great way to network from anywhere you are, free of charge, no matter how crazy of a schedule you try to balance as a student. But it seems like every year, we have more social media channels, and it’s easy to feel lost or overwhelmed.
Thankfully, you don’t really need to be on all platforms in order to succeed in your networking effort.
How to Use Social Media as a Networking Tool
Networking is about building relationships, and it’s much better to do it when you stay focused on a channel or two. This increases your visibility in a busy crowd and allows your username to pop up in front of the right people at the right time.
But how do you choose which social media network to prioritize?
The answer will be different for everyone. The best combination is choosing a social platform you enjoy, and that many people from your industry enjoy as well.
You’ll have to do a bit of research to find out where your specific industry is most active, but here are a few options to get you started:
Twitter: No Barriers to Networking with Industry “Celebrities”
Twitter is a good place to start. Thought leaders from different industries use the platform to share their views and interact with likeminded people.
It’s often the easiest place to have a direct online conversation with “celebrities” from your industry, because there’s no requirement that you follow each other in order to interact or see each other’s tweets. You can use hashtags or search curated lists with the “top people to follow in industry X” to identify leaders in your industry.
Facebook Makes it Easy to Network with People at Your Stage or a Bit Ahead
Facebook could be a great place to network with people who are more or less where you are in your career, or just a couple of steps ahead.
Join groups that target fellow students or those new to the industry and start engaging in conversations, so you can gradually build relationships, and maybe even make new friends.
LinkedIn is the Ultimate Platform to Geek Out About Professional Topics with People of All Levels of Experience
LinkedIn is the ultimate place to talk about professional topics. There are dedicated groups to a wealth of topics in a wealth of industries, and people from all levels of experience gather together to exchange ideas and learn from one another.
The more you get involved in discussions, the quicker you will establish a name for yourself. In turn, this increases the likelihood that your connection requests will be accepted, even if you’re still really new.
LinkedIn also lets you search any company’s name you want, and see who works there. Or search by title, like “marketing manager,” and see who might share mutual connections with you.
While it’s OK to invite people you don’t know to connect, you need to do it strategically – say, people who have mutual connections with you, or people who belong in the same groups as you. And it’s just as important to add a personalized message. Letting them know you’re an undergraduate business student looking to get to know people in the marketing industry could be enough to help them understand why you’re reaching out.
Another option is to look them up on Twitter on Instagram, and network with them there.
Instagram Simplifies Joining the Conversation and Starting to Network
Instagram makes it easy to find likeminded people by searching for hashtags. Do a Google search to find out which hashtags are popular in your industry, or review which hashtags industry leaders you already know use in their posts.
Instagram shows you the nine top most “liked” posts of each hashtag at the top of the search page – helping you understand who’s leading the conversation on this platform. These are people who might be more challenging to connect with on this platform, but might, on some occasions, be more accessible on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Below those top nine posts, you’ll find smaller profiles, who are much more likely to network with you if you initiate a conversation.
An Instagram profile with a small amount of followers could indicate that this person is new to the industry, but don’t assume that in advance. Chances are, you’ll find some people who’ve made a name for themselves in the industry on other platforms, or even outside social media altogether, who have now decided to give Instagram a shot as well.
The Wrong Way to Network on Social Media
Let’s start with what not to do. When you’re just reaching out to someone, don’t ask anything from them. Don’t ask them to follow you back, to endorse you, to give you a job interview, to buy something from you, to introduce you to someone, or to give you 15-30 minutes of their time to help you figure out how to get your first job in your industry.
If you’re looking to network with professionals, it’s very likely they have a mountain of items on their to-do lists, and are trying to balance the needs of their bosses, coworkers, clients, people they’ve been networking with for years, their friends, their family, and even their own needs.
They’ve got a lot on their plates, and you’re likely not the only one asking for a favor.
The Right Way to Network on Social Media
Therefore, the best way to get their positive attention and get them to stay open to getting to know you, is to be of value.
If they post something on social media, comment on that. Don’t just say “great post”, but leave a meaningful comment that will stand out, or ask an open ended question, something they can’t answer with a simple “yes” or “no”.
If they post about a challenge, see if there’s any way you can help them overcome it. Maybe you can introduce them to someone else in your network, or send over a great resource you’ve found online.
Don’t be afraid to get personal, but do it gradually. For example, don’t start with sharing your deepest secret. If you see it’s their birthday, say “happy birthday.” If it’s a new year, say “happy new year.” If you know they’re really into sports, reach out to congratulate them when their team wins.
Networking on Social Media is About Building Long Term Relationships
Remember, social media is about being social with other human beings on the planet, whom you might not of have had a chance to meet otherwise. It takes time, and it takes consistency over time.
Once the bond grows stronger, it’s OK to ask for a favor, just as you would from a friend. But just as you wouldn’t ask for a favor from someone whom you barely know, don’t do it on social media.
Always try to give more value than you ask others to give to you. It will pay off in the long run.
Think about it this way: If you start today, 5 years from now, you might be able to call the successful people in your industry your friends.