Build Your Digital Relationships Before You Need Them | Personal Branding Blog - Dan Schawbel

The old rules of professional networking translate to the online world as well. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “build your network before you need it.” Every single job search success story that I’ve heard stems from someone already having a network, tapping into that network, and then securing referrals and interviews from it. In this way, your online network is your only insurance policy against a layoff, and it is a bridge to new opportunities as well. On the other hand, if you choose to solely focus on job boards, newspaper ads, and job fairs, your job search will last five times as long. If you’re starting a business and you don’t have a large network, then you are at a big disadvantage and you’ll have to spend more time networking, when you could be investing in your business and serving customers.

The facts

Avoid networking at your own peril. You can’t afford to ignore online connections these days, especially when almost every first impression is created virtually, and people are more accessible than they have ever been. As you can see by the following statistics, building your network before you need to is timeless advice. If you have a network, especially an active one, it’s far easier to land your next big job, start or expand a business, or move up in a company.

  • 70% of jobs are secured through networking (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Jobs seekers spend 68% of their time looking at online job postings–and less than one-third of their time reaching out to others (
  • 92% of small business owners recommend business-focused online networking (

What happens when you build your network when you need it?

You shouldn’t rush to build your network. There’s a reason why ExecuNet states that 74% of executive jobs are through referrals. There’s also a reason why one-night-stands don’t result in relationships!

If you’re looking for a new job or another opportunity (and don’t have a network), you will exude these three qualities (acronym=DAD) to people who you’re trying to network with:

  1. Desperate: Job seekers, entrepreneurs who are trying to raise venture capital, and corporate workers who are begging to move up the ladder, will naturally appear desperate if they don’t have a support system to back them up. Other people will know that your desperate because you’ll promote yourself and hand them a resume, without shaking hands with them. You will try too hard, talk too fast, and ask for an introduction, without even getting to know the person. I don’t know about you but I don’t respond favorably to those types of people.
  2. Aggressive: Being aggressive is a very good thing in life, but if you’re overly aggressive because you need something from someone else, then it makes you look bad. For instance, if you’re really looking to get promoted and you bug your boss every day, you will probably either lose your job. Also, if you’re looking for a job and you’re in a conversation with someone, you’ll harass them in-person, and then through email after, until they respond. You need to understand that people will only go out of their way for you if they already know you, like you, trust you, and feel that they can proudly endorse you.
  3. Disingenuous: You can’t force relationships on people, so your attempts to network when you need it become viewed as dishonest and insincere. People know what you’re after so they will be turned off, not engaged, and not welcoming of your resume. Adding one hundred new LinkedIn contacts isn’t going to result in a job because people don’t know who you are, what you want, and if they receive an email from you saying that you want a job, you will be “LinkedOut.”

When you have an agenda, other people can smell it out, and it will be hard to convince them to support you.

The difference between online and offline networking

Online networking

When you have an online brand, you will be judged on the size of your network (your popularity), your influence within your industry, how you describe yourself and what you do professionally and personally, and the way you go about reaching out to other people. Also, it’s important to note what your intentions are for networking online, and how you will continue to provide your knowledge to that networking community forever. When you network online, there are certain unspoken rules, such as “don’t add a friend without sending a customized introduction letter,” and figuring out “what’s in it for them.” In the online world, your introductions and conversations are cataloged, shared, and responded to. This means that you have to be twice as careful as what you would say in-person.

Key differences are: your network is visible, searchable, and people can draw conclusions about who you are based on who you’re connected with on a grand scale.

Offline networking

When you’re in an offline networking situation, people can get a good feel for who you are based on your behavior, body language, and words. They can also grasp how you conduct yourself, and who you associate yourself with. All of these factors in drawing people into your networking database. Offline connections tend to become online one’s as well, especially if someone wants to follow-up with you or remain connected because they or you might feel compelled to work with them in the future.

Key differences are: Offline networking, or networking in a real-world environment, breeds stronger connections because you get a better sense of who someone is based on emotions.

5 steps to build your digital network in preparation for a career or business move

Let’s think of building your digital network like building a house. Here are the following steps you should take:

  1. Have a plan of attack: Before you build a house, you need to know where you want the house built, who you want to work on it, what materials you’re going to use, etc. When you build your online network, you will want to know which social media sites you want to use, and which target group of people you want to build relationships with.
  2. Lay the foundation down: Always, always, always, import your current email, instant messaging, and social network contacts in everything you do. Of course, you shouldn’t do this if you have a “personal profile,” but otherwise you should. By starting with a base, even if it’s your parents, friends, and a few acquaintances, it’s easier to build off of it. You can’t build a house without a foundation, and a deed.
  3. Get all your bricks together: Once you’ve chosen the social networks, blogs, and other websites where you want to grow your network, then you have to enable others to become connected to you. For instance, with a blog, you’ll want to add the “Facebook Like Plugin,” or a “Share This Plugin.” By doing this, you’re able to attract more referrals from people who are in your industry. Other bricks you’ll need are the design, some content to make it appear that you’re human, and flawless profiles.
  4. Build a house: Once you have the foundation and the bricks, then you need to build a community by driving conversations, commenting on other people’s materials, and become a leader in your category.
  5. Make house additions: You should always look to expand your network by providing more value, building a better site, or even starting your own social network. You want to keep leveraging new technology so that you can reach more people.

Your turn

Do you typically put off networking until you need to?

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