Here's a great tactic to ensure you make the right contacts: put together a list of companies you've got in your sights, find out who works there and, if possible, who's in charge of hiring. Then make friends with or follow them on social-networking sites.
Some corporate sites list personnel in their 'About Us' section – so try that avenue first. Search LinkedIn for company names if you hit a brick wall with the first method, and back that up with a search of PeekYou, Plaxo and Spoke. These are all social media directories aimed at business users.
A multipronged approach like this should yield a lot of names – and you can make friends with people on all these networks. Once you have concrete names, search for them on Twitter and Facebook.
Click 'Find People' in Twitter, then enter first name and last name as keywords to find everyone registered under that name. Facebook is trickier – a name search may pop up a bigger list of false positives – so search by email address instead.
NOWHERE TO HIDE: Pipl searches social-networking sites to uncover profile details that are hard to find
If you haven't found anyone in your initial search, try a people directory like Pipl – a search engine that specialises in digging up data from 'the deep web', including social network profiles and blogs. This will also reveal other social-media sites your target is signed up with.
Finally, use Technorati or Google Blog Search to track down your target's blogs – and when you can comment on a post, do it.
Step 7: Join specialist groups
Don't just rely on your virtual friends for leads – join specialist groups and communities online to get an inside track and promote your expertise. Even mainstream social-networking sites have a lot to offer in this respect.
"Look to existing networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, where there will be groups that discuss the industry and specific technologies and practices within it as well as dedicated forums and communities for the sector," says Rachel Hawkes, one of the brains behind Social Media Portal.
"The IT specialist should look to become engaged with the communities and establish a presence that adds value to the other community members by offering opinion, advice and leadership." Doing this properly requires some commitment, though.
To get the best from specialist groups, you should check in and post regularly. It's sensible to follow the old school rules of 'netiquette' when joining any new group. Lurk for a while and get a feel for the tone of conversation before you join in with a comment.
Some groups may require you to post an introductory note, for example. Others may frown on long, self promotional signatures. It's worth searching out specialist communities that match your expertise outside of the obvious choices, too.
As an IT specialist, you'll find social networks running on message boards, mailing lists, Yahoo Groups and Google Groups.
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