Expanding Your Social Circle: Welcome to the Party

Recently, my friend Gary admitted to feeling a bit antisocial — a little disconnected from the electronic connections everyone else seems to be making. What he needed, I told him, was a chance to get to know the popular players. As luck would have it, my perky friend Eventbrite was throwing a party that very Friday night. So I brought him along.

“You made it! You rock!” Eventbrite cheered, her bright orange hair glowing in the doorway. “Do you have your ticket?”

I handed her the printouts I’d brought for me and for Gary, and we made our way inside. “It’s not like she needs tickets for her own cocktail party,” I told him. “But it’s her thing. She can be a little control-ly,” I said quietly. Too quietly.

“Wait, what?!” Gary shouted. The room was humming with conversation, and bustling with so much activity we didn’t know where to start. So we just started moving toward the food. Suddenly, an energetic figure leapt into our path.

“Hey! Good to see you! I thought maybe you wouldn’t make it considering the big traffic jam on Route 84. And there was some police action on Hamilton Street. With the street fair and the movie premiere it’s a miracle you got here before the end of Beaujolais nouveau season. They just talked about that on the Today show!”

Gary and I looked up at the towering, nervously intense figure. “Gary, I’d like you to meet Twitter. He likes to keep up with the latest goings-on. If there’s anything you need to know right away, check him out.”

“Great to meet you,” Gary shook his hand. “I’ll definitely look you up, so to speak.”

“OK, cool,” Twitter chirped, his eyes darting. “Whatever you need. I’ll find it for you.” Then he leaned into us. “Don’t forget the hashtag,” he said in a hushed tone.

“Hmm… I thought I smelled something coming from the garage on the way in,” Gary commented. “The music was pretty loud in there.”

“Oh, that must have been Myspace. No, hashTAGS are something different. I’ll explain later,” I said. #novice

We made our way deeper into the party, finding ourselves drawn to an exquisite collection of art gallery-worthy desserts. We must have been drooling as a voice startled us out of our honey-glazed stares.

“These are sweet pecan and walnut praline candies, covered in chocolate. Couldn’t you just DIE?”

They were already in my mouth, so I chewed my hello. “Oh… Mife to fee you, Pinterest,” I mumbled through a mouthful of sweet pecan and walnut praline candies, covered in chocolate. “Thif ith Gary. Gary… Gary?” He was completely entranced by the strawberry angel food-cake skewers.

As usual, Pinterest was impeccably dressed, always sporting the latest cutting-edge fashions. “Well, it as nice to meet you, Gary. And remember… don’t let anyone ever dull your sparkle!” Pinterest said, taking a sip from her lavish s’mores martini and exiting with a wink. Gary and I picked up two bubbly cucumber spritzers from a tray of Picasa-perfect beverages and continued around the room.

“Well, there certainly are some colorful personalities here tonight,” said my friend, taking in the scene. “Except for that guy over there, he’s actually looking a little yellow.”

“Oh, Instagram? Yeah. I think it’s the smoking.”

“And who’s this guy in the suit? He’s coming this way.”

“Oh, that’s LinkedIn. Good guy but don’t ask him what he does for a living. The last time I chatted with him he pretty much recited his entire resume.”

LinkedIn made his way toward us, passing out business cards along the way. “Hey! What’s the latest with you!” he said, shaking our hands assertively while maintaining just the right duration of eye contact.

“Link… this is my good friend Gary. Thought I’d introduce him around tonight. He’s heard a lot about you guys, but I wanted him to get to know you better.”

“Gary! Great to meet you. What line of work are you in? I’m in sales. Vice President of my division. Big on conceptualizing and leveraging my critical thinking and global strategic expertise in a highly matrixed environment. I’ve championed several innovative initiatives throughout the last 38 quarters. Very fulfilling. I’m sure I know people where you work. You look familiar, actually. Did you ever work with my colleague Mary’s brother’s cousin? I feel like we met at a thing once. Here’s my card.”

“Wow, um, ok, thanks, Link,” Gary answered. “As a matter of fact I…”

Link threw an arm around Gary’s shoulder and pulled him closer. “By the way, please let me know if you have any openings where you work. I actually HAAAAAAAATE my job. PLEEEESE. I’m gonna freaking lose it any day now. Thanks, man.” And with that, Link headed toward the food, where Pinterest was putting the finishing touches on a spectacular Bacon-anza.

“Haha, awesome. I just got that on video!” YouTube was apparently just a couple feet away. “Sweet.”

“OMG, people!” Twitter was in the center of the room, his voice booming. “Lindsay Lohan was in ANOTHER run-in with the cops.”

“So this is what I’ve been missing?” said my friend. “Seems like a lot of commotion, yet no one’s really listening — more like talking AT each other. Except for that woman over there. What is she, mumbling to herself?”

“Oh, right, I know her. That’s WordPress. She’s actually a brilliant woman — a bit of a loner though. When she gets on a roll she’s very entertaining. But yeah, it’s kind of a free for all in here. You have to admit it’s a lively group. There’s never a dull moment!”

As if on cue, I suddenly felt a decidedly sharp nudge under my rib cage that startled me silly and bathed Gary in what was left of my cucumber spritzer.

“Haha. POKE!” chortled Facebook. “Who’s your damp friend here? Do you “Like” the party?”

“Facebook! Seriously! Gary, I’m so sorry!”

“Not a problem. I mean, don’t they say that club soda gets everything out anyway? It’s all good.”

Facebook got a little red-faced. “Well, I’m really sorry, dude. I was just trying to lighten the mood. I feel like all I hear about lately are lost and abandoned dogs and then I see their sad, sweet, lonely faces. It’s getting to me, I suppose. I just needed to share, I guess.”

“No worries,” said Gary, dabbing his shirt with some paper towels brought over by a female guest, who caught a glimpse of my arm. “Omigod, where did you get that bracelet? That’s amazing!” StumbleUpon’s eyes were wide. “Etsy! Come look at this! It reminds me of a paper origami bracelet I saw once. I always wanted to go to Japan. Have you ever seen a baby hedgehog?”

“OK, really?! I think I’m good to go,” Gary said a little impatiently. “I’m sure all of these people are extremely talented at what they do. They all bring a lot to the party, that’s for sure. But this is all making me a little lightheaded,” he said, scanning for a chair.

Pinterest, who had changed outfits and was now sporting a purple-plumed wide-brimmed hat, approached us with a bright smile. “Would this banana split parfait in a vintage jelly jar make you feel any better?”

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Who’s Looking At You, Kid?

Not long ago I attended an alumni networking event focused on building your personal social media brand. The couple dozen of us represented a nice cross-section of professional disciplines and graduating classes from the last few decades. A new media professor spoke to the group, and during Q&A, one of the more distinguished alumni raised his hand.

“I don’t go online much, and I stay off Facebook. Why should I put my personal information out there? I don’t need strangers reading all about my life.”

Yet here you are, reading his comments in a blog. I’m not giving you his name, of course, but this brings us to the professor’s response. “Sir, you are ALREADY online, whether you like it or not. From real estate transactions to phone listings, from news stories to web comments, or simply being related to other people who are mentioned, there is some amount of information about you already on the web.”

So, at a minimum, it’s a good idea to have an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude in terms of your social persona. Professionally speaking, managing your online presence is critical. If you’re looking for a new role or position, social media sites and apps should be more than something to monitor; harness the power they have to “expose” you and let them help you secure your next great job.

Think about how you approach a major purchase these days — say, a TV or washing machine. That guy from my alumni networking event might still subscribe to Consumer Reports print editions, but a good portion of us go on the web to explore our options: we read news and reviews, compare prices, maybe price comparisons, even instructional videos about features. Well, many recruiters today are taking a similar approach to procuring personnel.

Online resumes are not a new concept — but every day there’s an exciting app-of-the-moment, with new features and capabilities for showing, and selling, your stuff. Creating and optimizing your social media resume means more than uploading your CV to a user-friendly site. It’s taking advantage of the design, media, and networking options readily available (and free!), while attentively guiding your own personal branding message.

Bring Your Resume To Life

But yes, first — you need to go electronic. Think beyond the text box and give your resume an online home so you can add photos, videos, and links that launch.

A WordPress blog is an easy and free option for creating a crisp, professional snapshot you can update at any time; VizualResume offers some stunning layouts. As a start, if you haven’t yet, you can easily add links and posts and blogs from your LinkedIn profile.

Putting Your Best Face Forward

We know that hiring managers ARE using social media, and you don’t need to read this blog to realize you need to delete the beer-pong photos from your public Facebook profile or angry-customer ranting from your Twitter stream. Beyond the obvious, observant employers can gather breadcrumbs about your communication style, the way you portray your current employer, your relationships and family life, and hobbies and pasttimes. Take some time to “unlike” or leave Facebook interest groups that no longer interest you, or that perhaps you joined on a misguided whim (e.g., “Moms who whine without wine”). True, your privacy settings today may protect you; but we all know Facebook LOVES to change the rules. Why take the chance?

Showcase Your Skills

Cleaning house is the first step; after that, you have the opportunity to portray your strengths and skills in the best light by illuminating the traits and characteristics you want to highlight. On LinkedIn, and on Facebook, you can join and participate in groups that relate to your unique skills and professional interests. Create a Pinterest account specific to your career goals and upload a portfolio of your work, publications, and projects, if applicable. Link to some of your best work on SlideShare, or incorporate QR codes that link to your voice or your music. (Check out more ideas from Mashable.com.) Social media is about conversation and contribution — what are you bringing to the table that you can also bring to the office?

We’re Not There Yet (or, Beware the Egg)

Keep in mind that while social scanning should be assumed, it will only illuminate a piece of your professional puzzle. Corporate firewalls, conservative cultures, privacy settings, or even a shortage of time might mean the recruiter never makes it to your tumblr. So you still need to keep a version of your traditional resume optimized and accessible. It’s also quite possible that your recruiter doesn’t really “do” social. Don’t assume that your line of work will correlate to the amount of time he or she will spend on your YouTube page: A buttoned-up banker might scour the depts of your blog, while a marketing manager might be more interested in your white paper. Not long ago I interviewed for a role managing corporate tweets, yet the person deciding my fate was still using an egg avatar. You can’t know for sure.

You don’t need to be a creative director to pull together a compelling portfolio. A thoughtfully packaged, dynamic social media resume can depict your skills, accomplishments, and personal and professional goals crisply, colorfully and affordably. And that’s important, especially when we’re hoping a stranger is going to be reading all about our lives — and then hiring us.

Defining Your Social Media Bullseye

This is the time of year when you hear friends say things like, “I’m resolving to be healthier,” as they down that third eggnog, or “I’m going to be more careful with my money,” while swiping a credit card for a sweet flat-screen TV. Does “healthy” mean getting a lot of people to “like” eggnog? Does better money management translate to everyone coming to your house to watch the big game on your new TV? Even with the best intentions, pursuing vague resolutions is like trying to hit a target with a quiver of dull arrows and no clear bullseye.

Similarly, announcing that you are going to “do social media” next year is an exciting goal for your business, but to do it right, the targets need to be specific. Building a Facebook page for your business is a great first step, but without a plan for what you want it to convey or how to keep it fresh, it could end up working against you. Deciding you are going to start tweeting is applaudable, but not if your tweets begin and end with “Learning how to use this Twitter thing.”

Your social media efforts will be worthwhile if you can clearly define what you want to accomplish. Depending on the nature of your business, this can mean varied things as your products, services, or initiatives develop or cycle throughout the year. For some of your goals, it may entail just “listening” to the communities you’re targeting; on the other hand, it may be time to shoot straight for the heart of the conversation. Your strategy should be built around these specific targets, whether you want to:

  • Build a foundational client base or a following to set the stage for future announcements
  • Increase awareness of a cause or initiative
  • Solicit feedback
  • Introduce a specific product or idea
  • Sell tickets to a specific event or performance
  • Better understand your target audience
  • Establish yourself/your brand as a thought leader

Knowing your goal gives authenticity to your blog posts, focus to our Facebook shares, and context to your plan for “this Twitter thing.” Setting measurable milestones, even in modest increments, will help you evolve your social media strategy as your business achieves its objectives.

Wishing you a successful 2012! And go easy on that eggnog, ok?

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