Top Ten Tips for Online Professional Networking in the Legal Community
Apr 3, 2009
John Lipsey, Vice President of Corporate Counsel Services, LexisNexis
Online professional networking is a growing area of importance for the legal industry – serving as a new and unique forum for legal professionals to connect, communicate and exchange information between individuals and groups in a trusted environment. If you choose to participate in online professional networking, you should consider certain rules of engagement. Here are ten tips for legal professionals to consider when joining and actively engaging in online professional networks.
- Know your networking objectives – Whether it’s referral sources, connecting with other corporate counsel with similar business challenges or raising your profile, assess what’s most important to you. Then take a close look at your profile and decide what you want business contacts or prospective employers to see - and what you don't.
- Identify your targets – Don’t simply try to gather as many connections as you can. If you have 1,000 connections yet only 3 of those people would actually recognize your name, that’s not really useful. Use the site as a way to keep in touch with as many people that you’ve come in contact with in the business world as you can. Whether it’s other corporate counsel, private practice lawyers, non-legal business contacts and/or vendors, make sure the online community you join is exclusive to your target ideal.
- Validate credentials – When joining professional networks (as opposed to social networks) it’s best to interact with peers within a secured network where users can validate credentials and verify user connections. This lessens the likelihood that unwelcome individuals will find you and seek to make connections. A network full of qualified, verified and experienced contacts help legal professionals grow their own professional networks and thereby increase their go-to referral sources.
- Join affinity groups and communities – Just as legal professionals participate in alumni functions and industry associations – Association of Corporate Counsel, American Bar Association, Metropolitan Corporate Counsel – follow these same practices online by joining groups and communities with people of similar areas of interest or common backgrounds. Remember: the more active you are, the more contacts you will make. If you don’t find an appropriate group, create one.
- Listen, learn and engage – Each online community has its own culture and way of interacting with users, so it’s best to observe conversations and show that you are interested and appreciate the topics being discussed by sending messages and commenting on posts. Get in the habit of sending links to articles that you come across to contacts and colleagues likely to find them of interest. Or better yet, post those links in a group so everyone can take advantage. Follow specific users and visit their alternate blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter profiles and converse with them wherever they live online.
- Add value to the community – Don’t just sign up and then disappear. Instead, become involved in discussions and keep your name visible to your connections in the network. Contribution matters when engaging in online networking communities. It’s important to share valuable information and knowledge with members. If you're able to help people, they'll be more likely to remember you and return the favor.
- Translate professionalism online – A good rule of thumb is to treat online networking members with courtesy and respect, much like you would in-person. Some people get online and act inappropriately. For some, it is probably the seeming anonymity the online world has. But the fact is that these people know your name and if you act inappropriately, they are not likely to forget it. Additionally, be sure that your page looks professional, is kept up to date and is a good reflection of your business.
- Network with international colleagues – Take advantage of networking with international colleagues, it’s an easy way to expand your network and showcase your expertise to a wider audience. But, do your homework ahead of time and be sensitive to cultural differences. By taking into account cultural nuances, your networking etiquette will be appreciated and rewarded.
- There's a time and place for all types of networking – Online networking will not replace in-person communication or industry events, it’s an efficient and cost-effective alternative to travel and time away from the office. Getting involved now will help you understand where online networking fits within your overall business needs.
- Show some personality – Spruce up your profile by adding something personal or unique about yourself, such as a review of a book you read or hobbies outside of work. When it comes to volunteer and community service work, clubs, consulting, and other affiliations, you should feel free to list those things that will enhance the professional profile you are creating. Adding some personality into online networking establishes rapport and builds relationships that can potentially lead to new business prospects, after all people tend to conduct business with those they like and trust.
Like any other technological advancement, it takes time to become familiar with a new offering and adopt new innovations into one’s daily routine. Online professional networks are no different, but these tips can help legal professionals get started, get active and expand one’s network of peers, colleagues and potential business contacts all at the click of a button.