For people who want to invest in their career, networking and joining a professional community are likely at the top of their list.
While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, it is important to understand their similarities and differences in order to truly maximize the benefits associated with each.
Let’s take a closer look!
Understanding Networking vs. Professional Communities
While networking and professional communities are focused on interacting with people, there are several key differences that separate the two.
Networking refers to the practice of building and maintaining professional relationships with individuals who can provide opportunities for career development and business contacts. There are many ways to network both virtually and in-person by attending events, becoming a member of professional organizations and joining networking platforms such as LinkedIn.
In terms of how networking is traditionally used, professional networks are typically task-driven and connections are built one at a time. When using virtual networking platforms, individuals invite others to connect with them, look for jobs, promote their business, invite users to upcoming events and share newsworthy updates about starting a new role or earning a promotion.
As a job seeker, networking is often one of the best ways to hear about new job opportunities. This is especially beneficial when you consider that 85% of jobs are filled through networking.
Professional communities are designed to support a slightly different focus. While they may contain a networking component, communities are member-driven and rely on participants to define, create and share content to foster organic conversations.
For example, a human resource manager of a hospital might publish a question in a discussion forum about how difficult it is to find qualified nursing staff and ask the community for recruitment marketing tips. Community members can step in with their advice and provide the human resource manager with the help they desperately need.
One of the best things about communities is their lack of hierarchy. Anyone who participates in the community can post their advice or ask questions. There should be no worries about how they “look” when they seek assistance. Instead, a community is very supportive, and the people who engage in the community share common needs.
Joining a community is a great way to reach people in similar situations. While friends, family and colleagues can be a source of support, a community of like-minded members offers a source of solutions.
Through a community, people can have conversations that help them learn more about their profession and think about their current issues in a fresh light.
Communities also provide a level of belonging and connection. People join communities because they want to build lasting relationships with people who share similar interests, experiences and goals. Communities require actions and contributions from members to thrive.
Tips for Maximizing the Value of Communities
- Find your niche. Search for communities that are relevant to your job function.
- Once you have joined a community it is important to be authentic. Complete your profile, use a headshot for your profile picture and select a header image that brings out your personality.
- Review the community structure. Read the About Us section, review the Code of Conduct and make sure you understand the Dos and Don’ts of the communty. Online communities are moderated to ensure a good user experience so you want to make sure you are aligned with the community values and are leveraging the community benefits available to you.
- Introduce yourself in the community forum. While there are some benefits of being a silent observer, so many more benefits open up if you are an active participant. Think of this step like an in-person networking event. You have to introduce yourself to allow conversations to manifest.
- Create and post relevant content. Aim to start a conversation once a week to start. Conversations can be as simple as posing a question to the group or as complex as a challenge you are facing.
- Participate in surveys and polls posted by the community administrator. Community administrators often ask their communities directly what types of content will benefit their experience in the community. By participating in these questionnaires, you can help to shape the community conversations and culture.
- Engage with others. Comment and react to posts by others.
- Join events. Communities often host exclusive events for their members. Joining gives you another level of human interaction to strengthen your relationships in the community.
- Have fun! Communities should be fun and bring value to your life. If you come with a positive mindset and are excited to chat with people who have a shared interest, a community can only help you advance your career, bring solutions to your work and build your network and community.
Networks and Communities Add Value to Your Career
While professionals often praise the numerous benefits that networking offers, online communities can provide another outlet for people to improve their skills and expand their access to professionals in their industry.
Joining a community or participating in a networking event may seem time-consuming, but they are both massively beneficial for career development. It is worthwhile to invest in both!