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The Pros and Cons of social networking

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But are there different types of networking at all?

The number one question I hear from attorneys is about online social networking. Lawyers are nervous to put their information out on the web. They are also cautious about interactions with people in both their online networking activities and in their in-person meet and greets. There are frequent reports about the huge numbers of people who have accounts with LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking/media communities, but there aren't, in fact, a great many attorneys who are active on these sites, and those who do have accounts in online communities are usually there with just a careful toe in the water. While everyone knows networking is important, many are still skeptical about it, and within the legal profession there is a wide chasm of curiosity about how to properly utilize professional relationships and a network.



Some people mistakenly think (or hope) that these popular online social networking tools can replace networking in the conventional sense of the word. The truth, though, is that there's no competition between online networking and face-to-face networking; they are one in the same in purpose and outcome. The problem lies in the definition of the word ''networking.'' Too many have a preconceived notion that ''networking'' is in and of itself attending a business-oriented social event and trading business cards (in fact, that is just a part of it). Thus, people who are more introverted hate the process, and allow their dislike of this one activity to discolor the whole concept of networking in their minds.

There are bloggers, business professionals, authors, and professional speakers who regularly say, ''I hate networking,'' condemning the whole process. Many attorneys jump on this bandwagon to justify their own avoidance. This philosophy rallies those who are not comfortable in social situations or those who do not participate in online Internet-based communities to join them in their anti-networking debates. These people try to rationalize the notion that networking is a waste of time or that legal industry success is not predicated on having a network of professional contacts, but they miss the mark. This is what creates a false sense of different types of networking.

The real definition of networking (according to Dictionary.com) is ''a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.''

That says nothing about drinking free wine, wearing a nametag, and making small talk with people wearing Dockers and button-down shirts. It does not address devoting time to creating an online presence that allows others to locate and identify with you via the digital world. Thus, the whole debate is twisted by a misunderstanding of what the meaning of ''networking'' really is.

Who could hate having ''a supportive system of sharing information and services'' among those with whom you have a common interest? Does the group need to be in the same room eating from a cheese tray? Nope. Must someone share a connection on LinkedIn or even know how to Twitter in order to network? Not at all.

Networking is not something you go ''do'' when you have free time or the speaker at the Bar Association luncheon sounds interesting. You cannot expect to find a new job in a firm or as a general counsel if your sole purpose for networking is your own gain. You must make networking part of a lifestyle that allows you to discover the best in other people and create mutually beneficial friendships that lead to more success for everyone. This can be done through any variety of activities and should not, in fact, be limited to any one type of social undertaking. It also takes years to do it correctly.

Having a strong network can be vital to future employment opportunities; therefore, it is not in your best interest to ignore or avoid the important steps that lead you to establishing your connections.

What follows is a mixed approach to make, grow, and keep your business relationships:

Attend networking events. Create an online presence. Send notes and emails to people. Write industry specific articles. Introduce people to each other. Do amazing work and provide exemplary customer service. Host your own gatherings. Forward useful articles and information to others. Live your life with consistent character. Read books, blogs, magazines, legal journals, and newspapers to become familiar with a wide array of topics. Celebrate diversity. Join organizations. Lead organizations. Become informed about online social networking tools. Develop your public speaking skills. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Have a positive attitude. Help others discover and reach their goals. Share information. Support a charity. Serve on boards. Evangelize your company. Remain visible in your community.

Real networking is the sum of all these parts.

About the Author

Thom Singer is the director of business development for vcfo. Previously in his career he worked inside major law firms in marketing and business development roles. He is also a professional speaker and the author of three books on the power of business relationships and networking. He can be reached at thom@thomsinger.com or (512-) 970-0398.



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