For many of us, networking is as miserable as a trip to the dentist. For introverts, it seems especially painful. Luckily, technology is taking some of the sting out of meeting other professionals. Here are a few general guidelines I follow when it comes to networking using social media:

1. Use it as a supplement. Social media should never replace face-to-face networking. For the introverted, however, sending a message via LinkedIn or chatting on Twitter can be a non-threatening way to break the ice. Likewise, technology may expose extroverts to shy (but important) people they might not otherwise meet. The online world also makes it possible to expand your network nationally or even globally, something that was nearly impossible just 20 years ago. Whenever possible, however, eventually extend your conversations to email, Skype, phone, or (best of all) in person.

2. Give as much as you take. Social media gets direct credit for landing me clients, starting many of my closest friendships, unearthing some of the most unforgettable events I’ve attended, and even for netting me some awesome prizes. As great as all that is, however, I’ve given back tenfold by helping others find jobs, offering advice to professional peers, locating lost pets, spreading the word about charitable events, and much more. The best way to get help is to help others first.

3.Be patient. If you think you can sign up for Twitter tonight and have 20 new clients tomorrow, you’re going to be very disappointed. Virtual relationships take as much work as real-life ones, and probably more. People want to work with and help people they know and care about, and that extends to their online universe. It’s impossible to personally connect with and assist every person you “meet” online, so most people quickly weed out selfish and impatient types and focus their time on those who engage in a consistent, meaningful way.

4. Consider your image. Before getting started, think about why you are using a particular social media site and who will be your audience. Let this guide the image you project. I’m much more subdued on LinkedIn than I am on Twitter. One is strictly professional and the other is more conversational, and that is reflected in my photo, content, and tone. Just remember: Anything you say online never EVER goes away.

One last thing: If I’ve never met you, dear reader, reach out via social media (my links are at the top of the sidebar to the right). I’m always excited to “meet” new people!

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