by Boris Epstein (MASHABLE)
Boris Epstein is the CEO and Founder of BINC, a Professional Search Firm that specializes in the Software Marketplace. Boris shares his thoughts about the recruitment industry, job hunting and career advice at AskBinc.com.
Ask anybody why they use Facebook, and most people will respond with reasons like staying in touch with friends, or being able to share pictures. Rarely does one’s professional life ever get mentioned when describing the social network. When it comes to business networking, LinkedIn () tends to take all the thunder, and Facebook () is generally written off as a place just for fun. Yet, perhaps that’s a mistake.
Facebook, after all, has 250 million active users compared to about 44 million for LinkedIn, and even though the atmosphere is clearly not as focused on business, there are still a ton of opportunities for professional networking that business users would be remiss to pass up. Once you look beyond the obvious social features like sharing pictures and poking friends, there are plenty of ways to tap into the professional community on the world’s largest social network.
In this post we’ll talk about how to setup your Facebook for professional use, how to find others to network with, Facebook features that work for professional networking, and ways to maximize the value from those features.
Setting up your Facebook for business networking
If you’re like most people, your personal and professional lives have already blended. You share your personal stories and pictures with your work colleagues, you discuss both work and your personal life on your blog and Twitter (), and you’ve probably let go of the notion that professional and personal must be kept completely separate.
But even with that blurring of our work and social lives, most of us still want some separation, and I would recommend actually splitting the two on Facebook. Once split, you can continue to reap the social benefits of Facebook with your friends and family while simultaneously connecting with your professional colleagues.
Here’s how to split the two.
– Go to your friends list by clicking on the Friends tab at the top of your Facebook page.
– Click the “Create a New List” button and create one called Professional.
– You can now go through your entire friend list and add all of your professional contacts into this new and separate business list.
– Once you’re done, navigate to your profile privacy settings by clicking on the Settings link in the top right corner of your Facebook; then click on privacy; then click on profile.
On the profile privacy settings page you can begin slicing and dicing your Facebook world into personal and professional segments by restricting access to various parts of your profile using your newly created friend list. For example, if you don’t want your professional friends to see any of your pictures, click on “edit photo album privacy settings.” In the “who can see this” drop down, click on “customize” and then in the “except these people” field type in your newly formed professional friends list. Now only your personal friends will be able to see your pictures.
Though these settings can get fairly complicated because of their granularity, you can control your entire Facebook experience from this area of the site and decide what parts of your personal life you would like your professional friends to be able to see. Bear in mind that there are no best practices here. Meaning, if you don’t want your professional friends to see your wall comments, don’t let them. If you don’t want your professional friends to see your pictures, don’t let them. It’s your world and you can set it up exactly how you like.
Using Facebook groups for networking
One way to professionally benefit from Facebook’s enormous user base and to grow your professional network is to participate in Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups is a feature that allows Facebook users to connect, discuss and network with each other within the context of a common interest or topic.
There are groups on Facebook representing just about every topic under the sun. To find the right group for your professional aspiration, think of topics that will motivate you, allow you to connect with others of professional interest, and will allow you to gain insight into your industry/skill set – groups around these topics are the ones where you’ll find professionals you can network with.
Now that you have a direction in mind, enter your keyword into the search box on Facebook, and click on the “Groups” filter to the left of the results. You can also filter down the displayed groups by drilling into a number of sub categories, including business (a good bet for many professional groups), common interest, geography, Internet and technology, and organizations.
There are, of course, other ways to find Facebook Groups. Here are a few techniques that should give you plenty of groups to get started with.
– If you have friends whose professional advancements you respect, go to their profile page and click on their info tab. Towards the bottom of the page, you’ll see links to all of the groups to which they belong.
– On the main page of any Facebook Group, there are links to several other similar or related groups.
– Conduct an Internet search for “popular Facebook Groups” coupled with some of the keywords that interest you. You’ll often uncover blog posts, articles and people tweeting about a variety of groups, some of which may interest you.
Once you find a group that interests you, it’s a good idea to evaluate whether or not it will be a good fit before joining and pouring too much time into it.
What to look for in a professional group
There are millions of groups on Facebook, so how many should you join and which ones? Joining too many might prove to be unmanageable, so it’s a good idea to only join the ones that you can actually see yourself participating in.
Below is a list of the features you’ll find in each Facebook Group and what to look for in each to determine whether a group is quality enough to be worth joining.
Recent News – This section contains news from group administrators that is either about the group itself or is about a topic that might interest the group. Is it up to date? Is it useful information or just self-promotion?
Member Listings – Lists all group members including their profile photos, location and link to their profile page. This is an easy access way to send a message to a specific group member OR to request them as a friend. You can also use this tool to evaluate the group before joining. Does the group attract people with similar backgrounds and interests to yours? Can you see yourself giving information to and appreciating information from these other members? Do they seem like people you would value interacting with?
Discussion Board – The group’s discussion board allows members to engage in a discussion about topics listed by other group members. Before joining, use the discussion board to measure group activity and member engagement. Are discussions recent? How many are there? Are they interesting and on-topic? You should contribute to an existing discussion or start your own, once you’ve joined.
Wall Posting – This section is usually for member introductions or job postings. This is a great way to introduce yourself and your interest in this group. How recent are the latest postings? If there is any spam, how quickly is it cleaned up?
Groups also often have photos, videos, links sections, and event listings. You should evaluate these areas for recency and quality of information, as well.
Once you’ve joined a group, it’s time to start participating. This is where the real fun begins and the true business value will happen. Below is an example workflow I would recommend following upon joining a group for professional purposes. It’s a great way to show your presence in the group and get some professional networking activity under your belt.
Post an introduction on the Group’s Wall stating your interest in the group. If you’re looking to network, say so. If you’re looking for a job, say so. If you can offer advice, say so. The key here is to make this a simple introduction so the group knows who you are – not an advertisement for yourself or services, which may come across as spam.
Add links to interesting events, pieces of news or blog posts. Anybody who reads them will know you posted them, which will add to your professional branding efforts.
Go to the discussion board and comment on a few topics; don’t be generic. Find a discussion where you could truly add value and help some fellow members with their questions or contribute to some discussions with your thoughts.
Post a topic for discussion. Ask a question or propose a thought-provoking topic of discussion and share your thoughts — the object is to engage your fellow group members. Check back on this discussion often so you can participate and remain an active part of it.
Add friends. Because Facebook was intended to be an online extension of your offline social graph, it is proper etiquette to know somebody before adding them as a friend. While being in the same group might satisfy that requirement for some people, I think it’s a good idea to have some sort of further engagement with a member before requesting them as a friend. Once you’ve engaged someone (such as in a discussion board topic), request them as a friend but include a personal note letting them know you appreciated the interaction. That way, they will have some context for the request and will be more likely to accept. Once you’re friends, make sure to add them to your professional friend list so that you are able to maintain that line between social and professional.
Now that you’ve gone through this workflow for each group you’ve joined, you can now consider yourself to be an active member. So what’s next? Networking! Come back to each group often to post new links and videos, engage in discussions or start your own. You should also invite other existing contacts to join the group as a way to help spread the word and keep the group active. Also remember to befriend those with whom you’ve been active and take your professional relationship to the next level.
Once you have the basics down, professional networking on Facebook is very similar to professional networking in real life. The same rules and etiquette apply. As you build your professional network on Facebook you’ll be able to use those contacts for job hunting, business development, and more.
Although Facebook was built as a social network and most people treat it as such – there is a tremendous amount of professional value that can be gained there. Once you’re a member of a few groups and have completed the introductory workflow for each one, the professional value of Facebook should be evident and ready to be fully realized. Be creative, have fun, and remember: What you put into things is what you get out of them, so always try to stay active!
If you have any other tips for professional networking on Facebook, please share them in the comments.