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Learning from the Digital Natives: Expat Networking 2.0

Megan explains the value of building your network online to better develop your personal brand and strengthen your career or business development

For the expat professional or entrepreneur, building your network online is an important part of building your personal brand and your career or business development. It is clear that people understand the importance of online networking in strengthening their professional reputation as there are online professional networks like LinkedIn with over 25 million members worldwide.

However the collection of online social communities and interactive tools that allow people to share information and connect to others anywhere in the world, otherwise known as Web 2.0, has opened up new ways of online networking that are still being explored.

Though many cultures look to experienced, older generations for knowledge and guidance in career and business, when it comes to online networking we can learn a lot about using Web 2.0 from those younger than us. Those who couldn’t imagine life without the tools for instant communication with anyone, anywhere. This group is often known as the Millennials - men and women born after 1982 - or those that are not older than 16 years of age.

Although the digital divide has affected this generation, many consider most Millennials to be “digital natives”, fluent in the digital language of mobile technology and the Internet. Whether they are using instant messaging, texting, blogs, microblogs, social bookmarking, chat rooms, or online social networks like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, or Flickr, many of these Millennials are connecting via various devices 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

For this tech-saavy, resourceful, multitasking bunch, virtually connecting with others worldwide at any hour
is as normal in their daily life as brushing their teeth or having a soda. They see little difference in connecting with someone from their same city or half way across the world. The only barriers to connecting are where and when people 'hang out' online.

The benefits of the reach and access that this sort of communication provides to the expat professional or entrepreneur are many.

Connecting and building relationships with others in countries or communities previously inaccessible by other means is the most obvious. But it is difficult to describe the value of the wealth of information and knowledge one gains from access to fellow expats thriving in your country or community of choice. Learning from those 'in the know' and operating in your target markets and companies can be a much better source of information than any industry newsletter or magazine article.

However there are many barriers that those older than the digital natives have to overcome to fully embrace this idea of using Web 2.0 for online networking - especially those who were not brought up using technology as part of their everyday life.

For one, learning how to use these new online tools and engage in these online communities can be challenging. With new features being added everyday, it is not just a matter of learning, its a matter of keeping up.

The Common Craft Show is an excellent learning resource for Web 2.0 tools. It provides short videos - Social Media in Plain English - that I highly recommend for anyone interesting in using social media for online networking.
Secondly, the idea of networking in many people's minds has been one that involves people meeting face-to-face and building relationships in person. The idea of building a meaningful relationship with someone you cannot see or hear can not only be strange, but can leave people at a loss for what do do.

Online communication has its own rules, conventions and etiquette which can be very different from how people engage in person. Without body language and tone, two key elements to communication, you must develop rapport in new ways.

Strategies for developing rapport with others online can include sharing one's interests and hoping those with similar ones will reach out, asking questions to solicit a response from the informed, or offering to be of help to someone who expresses a need. The point is that a smile and a quick joke is no longer enough.

You need to be proactive, communicative and ready to be of service or provide value to others. You must also be ready to communicate within the limits of various tools - which in some cases means using only 140 characters to communicate your message.

One of the lessons to be learned from the digital natives is that there is not one ideal tool or community for building your network online. They understand that each tool or network has its own features, benefits and communities. Although you don't want to spend time (nor could or should you) on every online community, the Millennials understand that it’s using them in combination that allows them to maximize their power and build more rich, meaningful relationships. Connecting with people through Facebook, a social network, is completely different from connecting with someone on Twitter, a microblog.  But using them together and with other tools creates relationships that reflect peoples’ diverse interests and priorities and naturally bring like-minded people together. It is the depth, breadth and strength of their online relationships that allow these millennials to get information they need easily and get things done more quickly. These stronger relationships help them bypass formal channels and access those they need to know and are willing to help them.

Another lesson to be learned is it’s not just which tools you are using, but how you are communicating while using those tools.

These digitally savvy millennials are building relationships by sharing their thoughts in real time rather than through well-crafted documents and emails. The intimacy created and authenticity of their messages build rapport in moments that might otherwise take weeks or even months by other means. In addition to building stronger relationships more quickly, this 'in the moment' communication allows personalities and personal brands to shine through in ways that more formal or professionally oriented communication can’t always do.

In my own exploration, I have found using some of the 2.0 tools more useful than others. My favorite right now is the tool that limits you to using only 140 characters - Twitter.

I describe it as the new haiku for the time-challenged, highly wired online communicator. There are fantastic communities there and I really enjoy the ongoing banter, resource sharing and intimacy that is created between those "tweeting". I enjoy hearing about the activities and discussions between thought leaders like Krishna De, Dan Schawbel and Chris Brogan. I get to connect with those people I would not normally have access to due to my location - both people I know, like Deb Dib, Walter Akana, and Jason Alba, and people I don't. I also get to meet cool
new people like Anita Bruzzese, Miriam Salpeter and Luke Harvey Palmer. I love learning about the adventures of other expats like Carrie Marshall and Jessica Price. I also get to share my own thoughts and resources which helps to build my own network and communicate my own unique value. You can find me at Megan Fitzgerald and Expat Coach.

Like it or not, Web 2.0 is redefining how we communicate and build relationships online. So the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be adept at building strong, authentic relationships that lead to stronger brands, higher productivity and more connected way of living.

Expat Success Tip - Pick an online community, network or tool like Facebook, Twitter or Flickr (if you like photography) and just try and get started. If it all looks too daunting, you can purchase a book like I'm on Facebook - Now What?? or visit the Common Craft Show to receive guidance on how to use the variety of social media and 2.0 tools out there.

You can also ask a around to see if there is someone you know using some of these social networks or tools who can help you.

Once you've picked your community or tool and have a few tips to get started, commit to finding one like-minded person - preferably located in your expat home or in the country to which you want to relocate.

Share your thoughts, interests and try to be of service. Let the rest flow from there. You'll be on the road to building your online network and brand in new ways for more professional and business success.


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