Developing Your Network Online

The Web is a fertile ground for establishing connections for your network. For several years, people have been communicating online with others who share their professional interests by taking part in discussion groups. Online networking services allow you to develop contacts through the Web. Some people find participating in message boards or forums on trade association Web sites to be very helpful.

Online Discussion Groups

There are many online discussion groups on a variety of topics, including those that are career-related. These groups are available through services such as Google Groups (http://groups.google.com) and Yahoo! Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com). Search for groups in your interest areas, which might include anything from job hunting to current computer technology to the industries you're considering for employment. You will have to register for the group or groups you want to join.

When you join a discussion group, there are several rules you must follow. You might even receive a list of these rules from the group's administrator. You may be told that all discussions must stay on topic. You will likely be reminded that “flaming,” or being hostile to another group member, is not allowed. You may be asked not to post “spam” on a message board. This means you shouldn't advertise services or business opportunities. In the same vein, you should be wary of any business opportunities you see posted on a message board. Most of them are scams.

Online Networking Services

Online networking services began as a way for people to establish social networks but are increasingly being used by many to establish business networks. Two business-oriented online networking services are LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) and Ryze (www.ryze.com). Here's a general step-by-step look at how online networking services work:

  • You join an online networking service, either on your own or through an invitation from an existing member.

  • You create a personal profile.

  • You invite your contacts, including colleagues and friends, to join your network.

  • Your contacts invite their contacts to join the network.

  • The network grows and grows.

While online networking services can be a great tool, you take a risk anytime you put information about yourself out there on the Web. You should exercise extreme caution whenever you reveal anything about yourself online. Most services won't post contact information without your permission, but read each service's privacy policy to make sure. Remember that what you post on the Web is out there for public consumption — if you can see something online, so can your current employer or a prospective one.

Trade Association Forums

A great way to network with others in your field or industry is through trade association forums or message boards. Most associations require that you be a member before you are allowed to access the forum. Membership brings you other benefits as well, so it may be well worth the cost. When you post on a forum be sure to follow all the rules, like being polite to other members and respecting people's points of view.

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