Communication
October 23, 2012

Virtual networking: Building your online brand

With the recent launch of the Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0 and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, there has been a lot of discussion around professional versus personal virtual networking. The fact is the lines between our professional and personal lives are blurring: we are taking our work home with us and bringing our personal lives to work.

Networking has become more important than ever, while at the same time developing our professional brand that will assist us in our future career aspirations. Social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter allow us to build relationships at lightning speed, where geography and circumstances are no longer a factor.  

Nevertheless, there are always some risks associated with online social media usage so there are a few rules of thumb that I keep in mind in order to balance my professional and personal networking experience.

Individuals do not log on to social media sites to read static updates only, they come for interaction and conversation. Engage them in appropriate meaningful discussions and find areas of interest and commonality to develop a range of networks. Just like using the telephone, using social media professionally takes a commonsense approach. When tweeting or blogging about your personal and professional life, the content you post should reveal a dimension of your personality.  Associating your character traits to your personal brand makes you more memorable to your virtual networking audience.

Go beyond your industry when developing your network. Connect with individuals on a variety of levels from a wide range of areas. By growing your network outside of the common areas you will be more valuable to people that are in your immediate industry. By developing an extensive network, you can be the individual that connects colleagues across industries. Seek out opportunities to meet your virtual connections face-to- face whether it be at a conference, event or at local Chamber of Commerce mixers – it will make your networking relationships that much stronger.

When posting remember your comments are public for the entire world to see. Comment online the same way you would at a meeting, over coffee or a public forum. The safest assumption you can make is that absolutely everything you publish on your personal social media pages can be read by everyone you come in contact with, sometimes even after the post has been deleted. Always think twice before you post. Be interesting, engaging, creative and display a positive attitude through your postings and interactions. It can be tempting after a hard day at work to go on your social media page and vent about your day; however, this will only hurt your online reputation in the long run. You don’t want to post something in the heat of the moment that you will regret in the future.   

Be clear and transparent that your views are your own, but remember your duty of loyalty to your employer still applies. This is the same for every line of work, not just for government employees. For example, if you work for the private sector or a not-for-profit you are an ambassador for your organization, and if you as an employee do not support and stand behind programs and services that your organization offers, why would the public? As public servants we need to refrain from public criticism and balance our right to freedom of expression with loyalty to our employer. Ask yourself, would you want your manager seeing your post? Even better, would you want your post to appear on the cover of the Globe and Mail?

A short video was recently launched that explains the most important points to keep in mind as public servants when using social media as part of your work and professional interests. You can view the video at: http://bit.ly/Mxqanh.

In short, reach out to various networks and let your personality and positive attitude shine through in your posts. Where possible, take opportunities to meet your new connections face- to-face. Respect the guidelines and remember your responsibilities as public servants – think twice before you post. Continue to build your professional and personal brand as it will open doors and present opportunities that will assist you throughout your career journey. Happy networking!

Jodi LeBlanc is a values and ethics advisor with Veterans Affairs Canada and is a member of CGE’s editorial advisory board (connect with her via: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/jodileblanc).

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