In the sea of updates, articles and connection requests on LinkedIn, I noticed a rare gem of a message from a brilliant young professional who is located in my region. “Let’s meet in person!” was the thesis of her enthusiastic, and well crafted message. We met over lunch and had a dynamic and productive first meeting. This young lady provoked me to think about how we can better leverage the many contacts we have on the various social media outlets. I realize, if I want to have a strong network, beyond the cloud, I need to be strategic, make it personal  and stay connected.
Be strategic. It is virtually impossible to make a direct connection with every LinkedIn connection and each Facebook friend. It is imperative to focus your energy where you will get the biggest impact. What goal are you trying to achieve? What talent do you want to share? Think about what you want to accomplish, and plan your time accordingly.  Browse through your contact list and identify 3-4 contacts that could really help you drive results.
Make it personal. Once you have identified those you want to connect with, so some homework. Recall what you know about them. Study their profiles to determine what you might be able to offer help them meet their goals. Networking should be a two way street. You should be willing to give as much as you get from the connection. Once you are clear on how you think each contact can help you, and what you might be able to offer them, it is time to make a personal connection. Send them a message inviting them to have a phone call, or meet over a cup of coffee. Nothing beats a real personal contact.
Stay connected. Once you have established a new connection or strengthened an existing one, don’t let the efforts to to waste. Even if you and the person are unable to help each other right away, there may be some synergy in the future. Thank them for their time after you connect, but send a follow up email message or card. Then, reach out periodically to update them on your progress, and inquire about what they are working on.
Social media is a great tool. It is very helpful in providing a quick glance of what is going on in the lives of your friends and contact, or in a particular industry. However, personal contact is still the optimum connection.[/caption]