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6 Ways to Make the Most Out of Your Online Network

Hallie Crawford

While giving the commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2014, award-winning science educator Bill Nye said, "Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don't ."

Keep this quote in mind when you are networking, even in your online network. It's true! You can learn something new from everyone you interact with in your network, virtually or otherwise. So keep an open mind when you're communicating with your network and realize that everyone you connect with could have something to teach you, whether you are searching for a job or not. Your network is a critical piece to your career success, no matter what stage you are in career-wise and regardless of whether you are in transition or not.

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Let's focus here on your online network. Take a look at how many people you are connected with on LinkedIn. Now imagine how many new things you would know if each one of them gave you one piece of advice. You would probably feel a lot more equipped to face some of the issues you deal with at work or in the arc of your career. If you don't feel that you are learning anything from your network currently, that means it's stagnant and it's time to jump-start your networking efforts. How can you be sure that you are getting the most out of what your online network has to offer?

Join groups. If you're not in any professional online groups, find some to join. It doesn't have to be 10 of them, because you want to ensure you have time to participate in each of them. Try them out for a few months to see if they are helpful and effective. If they're not, drop out and find other ones. If you currently belong to a few groups, great. But are you truly interested in what the groups have to say? That is a mistake that many make. When we first join a social network, we tend to sign up for everything without considering if it's something that we could really contribute to. Groups are an effective way to learn new information. But to make the most out of a professional group, it has to be an active group and the topic should be something you really want to learn about, or that you care about. And remember that belonging to a group on LinkedIn is a two-way street. Your group will value your input as much as you value theirs, so participate frequently. Respond to others and create your own posts.

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Respond to prompts. LinkedIn makes it easy to stay in touch with your networking contacts. It alerts you when someone reaches a career milestone, when they have taken a new job and more. Take a few moments to write your congratulations to your connections. This is a very simple way to stay in touch with your connections and keep the door open for more conversation.

Connect with co-workers. Yes, your conversations with your co-workers don't have to stop at the end of the workday. It can be helpful to stay connected with the people you work with and make your relationships more meaningful. For example, if one of your co-workers writes a regular blog, you may feel a new appreciation for her and value her work more. This can not only help you have a more positive viewpoint of your co-workers and work more effectively together, you may learn something new about them and an expertise they have that you can leverage.

Connect with new people. Set the goal of connecting with at least one new person every month. However, don't connect with someone simply because other people in your network know them. Pick someone you would honestly like to connect with and try to learn something from. It could be a business professional you admire because they have achieved their career goals at a young age, a successful entrepreneur or someone in a management position you would like to have someday. Don't connect with people just to increase the number of your connections. Make your connections matter. And, of course, when someone asks to connect with you, write them a personalized message thanking them and let them know you'd like to keep in touch from time to time.

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Keep in touch. It's easy to make a connection, but it's another story to stay in touch with your connections on a regular basis. Schedule some time each week to keep up with your network, aside from the time you use to participate in groups. If you have a larger number of connections, this can feel overwhelming, so break your network up into groups. One week, check in on your network connections in group A, the following week check in on your connections in group B, etc. This will allow you to stay connected and forge a stronger bond with your professional network.

Share what you know. While you can learn a lot from your networking connections, share the wealth, as well! Share articles and posts that matter to you, adding your opinion on what you have shared. Consider writing articles from time to time about your work experience and how to successfully deal with common challenges.

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