The Networked Professional: Principles of Effective Online Networking | Beth's Blog

The Networked Professional: Principles of Effective Online Networking

Professional Networking

On Friday, I was honored to lead a session for participants in the TechWomen program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), designed to offer professional development, networking, and mentorships for women in the Middle East working in the technology and science sectors.    This year’s 41 participants are matched with mentors from companies here in the Bay Area and do a five-week internship.   They also receive training and visit other parts of the US.

My session was designed to generate discussion and share tips, best practices and tools for using social media to:

  • Build, expand, maintain and leverage professional networks in their countries, region and with new network in US;
  • Share the TechWomen experience; Build excitement around the program and expand its reach
  • Share experiences and interests openly yet safely and respecting one another’s privacy while achieving the above

This session was a prelude to some more extensive training the women will receive while they are here in the US.  For example, this week they will attend a workshop at LinkedIn where LinkedIn employees will coach them on online networking tips and taking advantage of the platform for online networking.

Flickr Photo by Mike Cogh

In my work with women in Middle East, the issue of privacy, safety, and security often a hot topic, yet using online social networks for professional networking requires us to be open. [The issue of privacy also comes up with US, particularly with nonprofit CEOs]  With privacy online,  if you want to be 100% secure,  the best method is to not to participate online.  Obviously, that is not practical in today’s connected age.     Then it becomes a choice of how open you want to be – and doing it in a way that preserves your privacy.

Flickr Photo by Mike Cogh

There are ways to be open, but you have to master privacy settings, use common sense,  and understand what your digital shadow is online.

Some commonsense principles for privacy and security we identified:

Location Based Social Networks:

  • Turn off social location features and geo tagging and use it on a case-by-case basis, not by default.
  • Don’t announce where you are right now on Twitter or Facebook

Think Before You Share:

  • Is what you’re posting something that you wouldn’t mind being seen by your children, parents, employer, employees, or government?

Connect Thoughtfully:

  • Friending policy for each online social network you use
  • Don’t accept an invitation to connect if it does not feel safe.

Protect your privacy and that of others:

  • Click through the privacy settings on social networks, read the Faqs and be sure you understand what the settings mean for your privacy and that of your connections


We also did a privacy and security technical assessment of best practices based on this infographic and the Me and My Shadow site from Tactical Technology.  The shadow site has a terrific tool box that helps you understand what pieces of your identity are being left online if you are using the Internet.   Especially useful is the tutorial that helps you understand the user agreements for the major social networking platforms.

The rest of session introduced the participants to different platforms that professionals can use to expand the reach of their networks and principles of online networking.

We talked about the importance of having a profile that projects professionalism and competence.   We looked a few examples, including mine.    I also emphasized the importance of having a connection policy.  I shared how I think about it.  I divide potential contacts into three groups:

  • PANs = Potentially Active Network
  • CANs = Currently Active Network
  • FANs = Formerly Active Network

The “CAN” and “PAN” are people I know  pretty well and have a strong reason for being connected (or not).  The “FAN” are people I may not know as well, but who are important because I have a particular goal and they may be helpful.   These are people I specifically reach out to.    This is how I evaluate incoming requests to connect.  I also pay attention to whether the contact request is generic or they have a stated a good reason why we should connect if they fall into the “FAN” category.

How do you balance privacy/security online with professional networking?  What are your best online networking tips?



3 Responses

  1. Great information Beth. With so many ways to connect online, it can be very overwhelming. Thanks for your leadership within the nonprofit community! Keep up the amazing work!

  2. Beth says:

    Hi Dave, thanks for your comment. It makes me think that one should also have a policy around how many social networks they want to join and why – and how much time to invest in each. There is only so much time in the day.

    I think the best place to start for online professional networking is LinkedIn – even if you get started using as a professional rolodex and engage slowly.

    Since this is my field, I have to keep an ongoing presence on a lot of networks to keep my skills ups, but if social media/technology isn’t your main field or you are getting a lot of value (building expertise, getting connections that help you reach your professional goals) – than you can be very picky with how you invest your time.

  3. I really enjoyed that and find your site refreshing. If it’s ok, I’ll tell others in my Linkedin groups about your site too. Keep up the good work.