The reason people often wince when the topic turns to networking is because it sounds daunting. Ask someone about his networking skills, and be ready for a blank stare, stuttering, or worse, a polite bowing out of the conversation. We all know we should go to more events, work on expanding our circles, and continue to build the relationships we have, but who has the time?
While I’m impressed by my colleagues who make a habit of attending events, it just isn’t feasible for me. And yet, I understand the importance of maintaining contact with my, well, contacts. I know from past experience that the more people I can reach out during a job search, the more likely it is that I’ll find an awesome position, fast. Not to mention, these people can easily go from “touching base” every few months to being the people who refer me internally at their own companies, agree to be my professional references, or serve as industry consultants and mentors when needed.
Just because you’re unable to carve out a ton of in-person time doesn’t mean you can’t continue to foster the connections you’ve made. Here are five ideas for keeping your network warm—all of them requiring three minutes or far less of your time. And good news: Most of the suggestions involve social media, because why not put some of that time online to productive use? It’s not cheating, it’s strategic.
1. Send an Email
Obvious for a reason: This is as easy as it gets, folks. You simply think of someone in your circle who you haven’t seen or heard from in a very long time, and you write a short “Hi, how are you?” email. Bonus points if you can make mention of something you saw on the person’s social media accounts. Did your contact just get married? Have a baby? Publish a paper? There’s your opening—and excuse for writing, not that you actually need one.
2. Comment on Instagram
While this platform may not be the first place you’d think to reach out to your professional contacts, it’s as good as any of the other usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) if you don’t have a lot of time, but want to make virtual contact.
A former colleague, who once provided a reference for me, posts the most adorable photos of her baby boy. As I was scrolling through my feed last week, I stopped to comment on her latest darling ’gram. You don’t do this for reciprocation; you do it because you’re making an effort to be in touch in however small way possible.
3. Congratulate Successes
Speaking of LinkedIn, you know when you’re notified that someone’s gotten a new job or is celebrating an anniversary at a company, and you are prompted to “congratulate” him or her? So, you could just click the button in front of you, or you could take two minutes and write a personalized, congratulatory few lines. It’ll be noticed and appreciated in a sea of random congrats.
4. Tweet at Someone
Not everyone in your network is at the personal-email level of communication, and that’s totally fine. For those people, there’s Twitter. Read a great article or come across a hilarious or thought-provoking piece that someone you know would appreciate? Don’t just like the tweet or share the article—add someone’s Twitter handle. Small, yet effective move.
5. Chime in on Facebook
A lot of my contacts share articles they’ve written via Facebook. Now, I can like the post because maybe I read the piece and I like it, or I can go one small step further and comment on the piece. It doesn’t take long, and it’s much more meaningful than just “liking” something. And, if someone in your circle posts an open-ended question that you can respond to, do. It’s painless for you and helpful to the person looking for advice on travel in Spain. (That’s right, your correspondence doesn’t have to be work-related.)
Which one of these you choose will depend on the person. The contact I emailed last week to suggest meeting for a coffee sometime this fall (perfectly appropriate to mention getting together without nailing down a date in your early correspondence) may not be the same person I’d send a personalized LinkedIn congratulations to. The point is, there’s no one-size-fits-all with networking.
The sooner you get comfortable with that—and the fact that you don’t have to spend hours each week reaching out to contacts—the stronger your network will be. Eventually, when you are ready to carve out more time for events and in-person meetings, you’ll be glad you made these small, easy moves.