People often ask me how I built my professional network. While today’s networking looks different than in the past, I have spent time refining the ways in which I develop my networks on social media platforms, and thought I might share a few of my strategies here.

At the time of this writing, I have nearly 20,000 LinkedIn connections and almost 30,000 Twitter followers. Of course, that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve grown my networks organically over time, and LinkedIn and Twitter are the two platforms where I focus most of my efforts. I make an effort every day to grow my networks, and thus, my influence among those networks.

From a business perspective, LinkedIn has been the single most effective networking tool for me. As a first – and often easiest – step, I suggest using LinkedIn’s automated ‘link to everyone in your address book’ function. This will help build a solid
foundation of connections.
Second, it’s a good idea to harvest your e-mail contacts. If you receive an email blast with visible addresses, consider sending those contacts a LinkedIn invite. If you are involved in a webinar, invite attendees to connect as a follow-up. Whenever you have a meeting, connect with attendees.

Be open to new
I often tell people to accept every invitation. Down the line, you can always opt to disconnect if you start receiving unwanted messages. Use LION (the “LinkedIn Open Network”) in your profile. This designation indicates that you’re open to accepting unknown invitations. Look at who has looked at your profile or who follows you. Send them an invitation as well.

This may seem obvious, but since LinkedIn is a professional platform, it’s important to make sure your
picture and profile are professional
. Don’t forget to fill out the all-important education and outside interest fields… you never know how someone will find a common interest with you! If you choose to use a personal email rather than your work email, make sure it isn’t immature or unprofessional.

In order to organically grow your network, share interesting articles from your
. If you have a strong feeling about the topic, share your opinions. If you are already writing blogs for personal or professional reasons, LinkedIn is a great platform to share them. You want to be known for smart content sharing; this will make people want to be connected to you.

One word of caution that may seem contradictory is to approach making introductions carefully. Many people are on LinkedIn for self-seeking – albeit noble – reasons, but your network is your network, and you don’t want to jeopardize connections by making introductions without much thought. To avoid any issues, consider reaching out to the intended target in advance to see if they would welcome an introduction. If they decline, gently tell the requestor.

As an alternative, LinkedIn offers the opportunity to endorse connections. My approach? I endorse judiciously, as I find it is a good way to more deeply engage with my connections, but I am careful not to be gratuitous. It’s important to make sure you are sincere.

LinkedIn can also be valuable when used for pre-meeting research. Take a few minutes before a meeting to learn more about attendees as well as their companies. As stated above, look in those all-important (but often neglected) fields such as education and special interests. You may find some commonalities that will help make more personal connections, and tee you up for success.

Many LinkedIn users have found joining groups to be valuable. To date, I haven’t found much success in them, but that doesn’t mean others should dismiss the idea. I’d encourage others to try joining a few groups that relate to your interests and see what develops.

LinkedIn also allows you the opportunity to gently re-connect with your connections. You’ll be notified if someone is celebrating a birthday, has been promoted, or has moved on to a new position. Take the chance to sincerely congratulate them on this positive happening. In instances where you notice that a connection is perhaps “between positions,” reach out and offer help, if you can.

For me, personally, Twitter has been much less effective as a networking tool, but I still find that the platform is extremely valuable for news sharing and credibility building. Fortunately, given as much time and effort as I put into being strategic with my LinkedIn content and engagement, I can almost seamlessly integrate a similar plan on Twitter, sharing much of the same content there.

I have found that the biggest drawback to networking on Twitter is that contacts can hide behind
. In some cases, you may have no idea who you are engaging with. I often wonder if I’m being asked questions by a teen interested in providing his parents with information about athletic footwear for his holiday wish list.  

While I do see value in having a strong presence, I’ve seen far too many people fall into the trap of bragging or self-promoting on the platform. Given how few characters a user has to get his or her message across, it’s easy to fall prey to that strategy. But as I see it, it’s best to let your content and responses build your

As with LinkedIn, especially if you are on Twitter to establish yourself as a credible resource, make sure your profile and handle is complete and professional. You cannot control who follows you initially on Twitter. But you can block anyone who is abusive.

Be ready and willing
to answer questions
that will help to position you as an expert in your field. As an analyst I am in a unique position to understand the market and provide knowledgeable responses to questions related to the sports industry. For me, that’s a great way to add (qualified) connections. This goes both ways. You’ll also want to follow important
people in your industry and retweet
relevant tweets from them.

As I mentioned above, I focus most of my efforts on LinkedIn and Twitter. I have not found Facebook to be an effective social networking tool, especially professionally. You mostly come across photos of someone’s exotic vacation, memes about their political stance, or family photo albums. However, to each their own, so if you feel it might be a valuable platform for your particular industry, give it a try.

Instagram is a great place to see what’s happening in your industry, but unless you’re working to become an Instagram influencer, it’s not a platform where I find much networking value. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work for you!  

The key is to find your social media voice – the places and platforms where you can plug in with interesting content and commentary that is valuable to others. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and all of the other social networking platforms… are powerful networking tools, made only more powerful by your strategic use of them.