I’m a longtime Facebook user, and though my reasons for being on it and the ways I use it have evolved throughout the years, I’d never actually considered it for its networking offerings until recently. That’s what LinkedIn is for, and to a lesser but arguably more unique extent, Twitter. So when my editor suggested I investigate professional FB groups and see what was out there, I agreed to it immediately. I was intrigued at possibly discovering an exciting, new world among all the wedding photos, personal life updates, and memes. Could it be possible that it could help my career—and not just distract me from it when I got tagged in a photo?
My research started in my own office, and I was happy to find that a few of my colleagues had experiences they were open to discussing. Erin Greenawald, Senior Editor of Branded Content here at The Muse, helped me get started by inviting me to a couple of the closed groups she belongs to (Dreamers // Doers and NYC Tech Ladies) and then sitting down with me to talk about her professional involvement with them.
When Greenawald mentioned how her groups serve as a great crowd-sourcing outlet, I had an “aha!” moment. More and more lately, I’m finding myself using my status to get answers for everything from articles I’m writing to local restaurant recommendations. Only recently, I’d put out a call asking who’d be willing to talk to me about a piece I was writing on wedding planning while you’re on the clock. I figured along with some obvious ideas (checking Pinterest for table setting ideas), I’d receive some lesser-known, clever tips for multi-tasking the potentially cumbersome event all while remaining a productive employee. Instead, I heard crickets—unless you want to count my aunt, who wasn’t exactly my target audience.
A New Networking
The groups had essentially changed the way Greenawald used the popular social media outlet. Aside from crowd-sourcing, Greenawald utilizes them for networking purposes. As a branded content editor, which is a fast-growing, yet still relatively new field in the editorial sect, Greenawald appreciates meeting other sponsored content editors. A recent breakfast for brand editors that Greenawald learned about via a post from a member of Dreamers // Doers was a great way for her to connect with people in her industry doing similar things. She might call herself an introvert, but by putting herself out there and meeting new people, she’s already a networking success.
But crowd-sourcing and in-person meetups aren’t the only things on offer. Some groups provide forums for open-ended questions, so if you’re dying to learn about a new industry or how to go about making a career change, this could be a good place to start. Other groups are aimed at job seekers. For many seeking freelance work, scooping up a job opportunity is a boon, and the main—or even sole—reason to join one of these communities. Snag enough jobs through the callouts, and you’re on your way to building a strong resume.
In fact, as many of these groups are private, you might see your credibility increase in the eyes of potential employers if you’re a member on one these small and exclusive lists.
Job Search Possibilities and Beyond
Muse video editor Daniel Zana, spoke to me about his pre-Muse experience finding paid work via various TV and film-editing groups: NY TV People, Edit Suite Stories, and The Avid Editors of Facebook (to name just a few of the groups that exist in this industry). Aside from finding the groups useful for landing short-term, freelance gigs, Zana appreciated the cred that came with being part of an established one. Sometimes, when you’re on the job hunt, it can help to name drop an organization that industry people will recognize.
One of the cool things about this (aside from the sheer number of them, which can, admittedly, be overwhelming) is how there is something for everyone. No matter what job industry you’re in or career path you’re on or interested in exploring anew, I bet you it’s out there.
One Muse staffer, James Mayr, who created a card game last year with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, turned to Facebook’s professional groups for design and marketing information on creating and selling board/card games. He didn’t necessarily need to meet anyone over coffee, and he wasn’t looking for employment opportunities; his modus operandi was obtaining particulars on a very specific topic. According to him, each of the groups (Game Designers Guild, Tabletop Art Design, Tabletop Kickstarters) has a few thousand members, though “most people,” he notes, “myself included, are usually passive observers.” They may be passive, but they’re learning as they scroll and read. Mayr says that “The groups serve as excellent resources for answering all manner of questions with professional opinions, but there's not much of a community beyond that.”
This idea of community, however, is absolutely dependent on the group as I understand it. If you just want some answers to burning questions about board game regulations in the U.S., you probably aren’t in search of the camaraderie and bonding that are inherent to the NYC Tech Ladies. The founder of this group, Allison Esposito, created the online space in large part because of a lack of community. Esposito points out that as tech is still a male-dominated field, often women working in the industry are the only woman on their team, They “aren’t surrounded by enough women at work,” Esposito says, acknowledging that while “Working with men can be great…relationships with women are so valuable.” Members of NYC Tech Ladies have helped each other find jobs and have even formed friendships outside of the career space. “I'm actually a super introvert and never thought I would run a networking group, but it’s so great connecting people,” Esposito admits.
I wondered about the private versus public group. Doesn’t something about invite-only suggest a certain exclusivity? A clique of sorts? That’s not Esposito’s intention, and after hearing her reasoning for the group’s privacy setting—“I don't want to be exclusionary, it's just that I want to keep the group relevant”—I understood that this is probably the case for a lot of the founders or administrators.
If you find a group you want to join, and it’s not open to the public, you have a couple of options. First, I’d recommend asking around. My editor invited me to the Binders Full of Women Writers group, and that’s one that I probably would have had a tough time gaining admittance in without her: After being invited, I was tagged in a post directed at recent new members. It explained the organization’s policies and clearly stated that to continue on as a group member, I was to respond to the tagged post with affirmation that I understood the regulations and standards.
Second, if asking around doesn’t end with lots of leads, you can actually find them yourself. When you’re on your main page, clicks on “Groups” on the left-hand menu. As you probably know, if you’re currently a member of any at all, they’ll show up here in list form. This is also the place where you can search for ones that align with your interests. Based on your Facebook activity and behavior, you’ll see suggested options, local ones, and even ones your friends are involved in.
If there’s one you find especially compelling and seems on the smallish side (numbers vary greatly, but The Fetch, a group involving worldwide events curation, where people often share articles, has roughly 200 members; by contrast, Dreamers // Doers has 2000), you might want to send a personalized message to the coordinator or admin person, if you can find out who that is by searching the main page. If you can’t garner that information from the group’s limited public-facing page, you can try reaching out to one of its members via a private Facebook message. You never know when you might connect with someone who can help.
Once you find a group or two that fit your networking and career needs, your next move is getting in on the conversation. That doesn’t mean that you let it turn into a time suck. Greenawald says she takes an hour or so once a week to scan her group’s feeds and check out the latest. You’ve got to see what applies to you—whether that’s an open-ended question with a ton of member comments or a Thursday morning breakfast with industry folk.
For Esposito, however, the offline component in key: “In person you make a connection that is so much more lasting, there’s almost no replacement for that.”Esposito’s first NYC Tech Ladies meetup included approximately 15 people. The list is currently at about 300, which is pretty impressive. And at that size, there’s plenty of opportunity to make an impression. The contacts you meet through this seemingly casual and fun network might end up proving indispensable to you as you build your career, switch jobs, and forge ahead on your path to success.
As with most things, the professional Facebook groups aren’t going to hold your hand or hand you an opportunity on a silver platter. You’re going to get out of it what you put into it.