Networking is the process of establishing quality relationships. I define quality relationships as those filled with value. Without an exchange of value, there can be no sustainable relationship in marketplace. The same holds true in a virtual world where we are more connected via the web than ever before. On the surface, it seems easier to connect with others. Access is one thing, but excess is another.
The web is flooded with information (good and bad) and people—most trustworthy but many are suspect! That same skepticism translates to how people, especially a prospective mentor, will view you in a virtual world. Your objective in securing a virtual mentor i.e. connecting with an expert or accomplished individual online) is to establish trust and build a rapport.
Here are the four considerations in securing a mentor via the World Wide Web.
Make sure that the person you are looking to has a “teachable” personality. Success is not always indicative of someone’s ability to mentor well. Assess the type of success they have had within their profession, and also make sure that their proficiency is the proper type of skill you need to develop as well.
Making contact with someone is not the same as making a connection. Connections are what prompt someone to return your call or respond to your outreach. Today, you can use multiple social media tools (BE Insider, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin) to connect with a prospective mentor. The objective is getting on his or her radar and establishing rapport. By using multiple platforms you increase the likelihood of acquiring this person’s attention. Additionally, be sure to personalize your messages. For instance, I rarely respond to someone who makes a connection request on Linkedin if I don’t know him or her, and if there isn’t something personalized that grabs my attention. Boilerplate requests are rarely responded to or given much value. Remember, busy people get tons of connection requests every single day, so your outreach needs to add value and standout.
- Common Ground.
Next you want to cultivate the relationship by generating interest, creating trust and establishing common ground. You can do that by showing you have a genuine interest and appreciation for this person’s expertise and time. Be respectful of their schedule but also complimentary. Flattery still goes a long way—even in a web 2.0 world! The best compliment in our social-media-steered society is a follow or public recommendation (i.e., sharing on Facebook or retweets and promoting #FollowFriday on Twitter). Tell the prospective mentor that you already follow them online. If they have written a book, buy it, read it, recommend it and comment on it. Furthermore, quote the prospective mentor’s writings, interviews, or teachings in your outreach to them. By doing so, you demonstrate sincerity, awareness, and you use “virtual-butter” to get the person to warm up to you.
It is very rare to receive a response from anyone after just one attempt. (Hey, do you respond to every stranger that contacts you?) Consistency is the thread that will sew your professional relationships together. The absence thereof will cause them to ravel. Send regular emails, hand-written thank you notes, express your admiration, comment when you see that person on television or at a conference, and leave messages on his or her social media pages. Social media is your direct invitation to connect. Be consistent, without harassment, in responding to that open invite.
In short, you must continue to look for ways that you can give value to a prospective mentor as the key to establishing a genuine connection. Eventually this person will notice you and hopefully look for small ways to assist you or be a resource for you.
Let me know your suggestions for networking online and securing virtual mentors. What has worked and what has flopped? I look forward to hearing from you.
Marshawn Evans, Esq., is a weekly career columnist for BlackEnterprise.com. She is President of ME Unlimited LLC, a peak performance agency, and is Founder of ME University® – the industry’s premier resource for profitable brand strategy. She is author of the bestselling book, SKIRTS in the Boardroom: A Woman’s Survival Guide to Success in Business & Life (2008). Connect with her online at www.marshawnevans.com, on Twitter at @marshawnevans and on Facebook at ME Unlimited by Marshawn Evans.
Have a question for Marshawn? Continue the conversation on her BE INSIDER NING page at beinsider.ning.com/MarshawnEvans.