The New Rules of Networking

In today's economy, you need to use all the tools technology offers to build your professional network, strengthen your Columbia connections, and advance your career. Sree Sreenivasan, one of the foremost experts on the use (and abuse) of social media, shows you how it's done.

by Kate Lawler Published Spring 2015
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How about e­-mail etiquette?
I’d say that while everyone is always talking about social media and mobile media, e-­mail still makes the world go round. Make sure you are a good, clear communicator on e-­mail. If you’re wishy­-washy or have poor spelling, grammar, or punctuation, those things are going to come back to bite you. I would also say that in a world of so much e­-mail, one of the ways to stand out when you’re networking is to send a handwritten thank-­you note after you meet someone. I also have an etiquette rule: never call anybody to ask for help without e­-mailing them first. You never know if someone has had a bad morning, or if his or her kid has a fever. If they’re active on social media, you could check their social­-media posts before you make that call and get a clue to how they’re feeling: for the first time in history, people are signaling what they’re feeling publicly.

Is it ever OK to ignore someone's LinkedIn request?
My own policy on LinkedIn is to say yes to people who I already know, who I’d like to know, and who I should know. That may sound overly open, but it’s sort of what you already do in real life. If you’re at a cocktail party and someone approaches you, you’re not going to say, “Oh my God, stay away.” The fact that you’re at the same cocktail party gives you the sense that maybe this person is worth saying hello to.

Is face-to-­face networking still important?
A hundred percent. That’s why events and conferences count.

Where do you stand on the value of Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for professional networking? Should we keep the personal and professional separated?
It’s very subjective, and there are no rules. Be on the network that makes the most sense to you and that fits into your life. And then get comfortable. It’s very hard to separate your personal and professional life, though. Some people say, “Well, Facebook is for personal and LinkedIn is for professional.” But what do you do when your best client asks to be your friend on Facebook? Are you going to say “no, thanks”? No. But you should actively manage your Facebook page. Facebook has great privacy features, and you can put people in different lists so they can’t see as much of your stuff.

You have more than 200,000 followers on your personal Facebook page. But you also have a second Facebook page called SreeTips, where you regularly post digital-job leads. Is this a way of giving something back?
It’s a tough economy, and people need help. You want to give people a sense of all the opportunities out there, and that’s why I do it. And I get nice notes from people telling me when they’ve applied for a job. I’m really humbled when that happens. If we can all help each other, there’s nothing better.

You're well known in the Columbia community for throwing parties at your apartment where you encourage guests to make connections. Tell us more.
I think it’s wrong to gather people together and not introduce them to each other. My wife and I have an annual holiday open house where we invite about three hundred people to stop by between the hours of 4:00 and 11:00 p.m. In the course of the evening, we stop the party four times and have everybody introduce themselves. People can’t believe it; they’ve never seen anything like it. People are shocked, and sometimes they’re put on the spot, but they make great connections.

You got your master's degree in journalism at Columbia, then spent twenty years teaching at the journalism school and a year as the University's chief digital officer before you took your current job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Can you speak to the power of your Columbia network?
I arrived at twenty­-one and left at forty­-three, so I’ve been completely shaped by my Columbia experience. Even though I’m no longer a member of the full-­time faculty, I’m super excited to help in any way I can. I think all alumni should get involved, go back for reunions, sign up for the newsletters, join the LinkedIn groups, and so on. People who don’t use the networks are making a mistake. Everything I’ve gotten is from having Columbia connections, and I’m forever grateful for it.


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