Checking someone out is easier than ever
It’s time already. You need to hire an outside expert – in fact, you needed one last week. Maybe it’s a web designer who really knows usability, or a human-resources development consultant, or perhaps an expert in search engine optimization to help you get more visitors to your website.
Most business people automatically turn to their business network to find the expert they need. But you may need expertise that no one else in your network has hired lately. Even if your business partner’s brother-in-law does give you a name, how do you figure out if that person has the chops to address your specific needs?
Fortunately, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can all help you check out a prospective expert before you even get in touch with him or her.
Of course, not every business person or topic expert is active on the social web. But if you’re looking for someone with expertise in almost any area of technology or business, you’re going to find plenty of people tweeting, posting on Facebook and posting with LinkedIn interest groups. There’s lots of information – literally at your fingertips – that you can sift through before deciding whom to call.
Filter your search using options in the left sidebar:
- Location: Use this if you’re looking for someone in your own geographical area, or another area where you want to do business.
- Relationships: Lets you view only people in your own network, or people in the second or third ring out from you.
- Industry: Limit your search to people in specific fields.
You can also use the Answerssection of LinkedIn to find an expert. Enter your keywords in the Advanced Answers Search and scroll through the questions and answers to find someone who’s addressed an issue that’s close to your needs.
Ask a question you really need answered. If someone answers intelligently, you can start searching their network to see if anyone you know is connected to that person. Then you can ask for references. If you can’t find a mutual connection, you can just get in touch with your prospective expert and take it from there.
LinkedIn Groups are another great way to find people. Join a group in the area where you’re looking for expertise, and read people’s posts. You’ll soon get a feel for who knows his or her stuff.
While people often solicit LinkedIn recommendations from their friends, you can certainly read them to see if the recommenders mention specific capabilities or expertise that’s important to you.
Twitter and Facebook
Both Twitter and Facebook can seem more frivolous than LinkedIn, but they’re still great places to find someone. Use the search bar to enter the kind of expert you’re searching for.
If you’re searching for a good web designer, for example, you can enter “web design” in the search bar. You’ll get a stream of tweets or posts on that subject. From there, you can click on the name of any person or company whose remarks you find interesting. Note: On Twitter, you can search using the hash tag. Entering #webdesign will pull up tweets on that topic.
Here are a few ways to check out J. Doe before you make the initial contact:
- Who’s following J. Doe? Many people have both a professional and a personal profile on Twitter and Facebook. You can check out J. Doe’s professional profile, but even if she has just one, take a look at it. Are people from her industry following or friending Jeannie Doe? That could mean people in the know respect her ideas, and value the information she posts, tweets and retweets – an indication that she is a legitimate expert.
- Whom does J. Doe follow and friend? If Jack Doe is following and friending leaders in his industry, that can be a good indication he’s hungry to learn from the best. If he’s following people in related industries — and they’re leaders, too — so much the better. That means he’s open to all kinds of input, and may have a wider range of experience to draw on.
- Number of fans and followers. More is not necessarily better. If J. Doe has 18,569 followers and has created a total of 27 tweets, where did all those followers come from? Probably a follower-purchasing service like the one pictured below. If someone has purchased their followers — or just follows lots of people at random, hoping to get followed back — then their large following isn’t telling you they’ve got something valuable to say.
- Is J. Doe a broadcaster or an engager? Read a few pages of J. Doe’s Facebook posts. Is he offering useful information? Is he linking to other people’s blog posts, articles and presentations? Does he respond to other people’s comments? Are people engaging with J. Doe?
Twitter is a great place to see what someone has to say. Some people don’t update their Facebook page very often, but they’ll tweet frequently, and you can easily read a whole page of what they’re thinking about.
Some people constantly share new ideas, promote others’ ideas and engage in conversations. They’re connected to their industry and community, a good indication they’ll be able to pull in other resources to help you, if needed. Andi Mann’s tweets and retweets demonstrate his engagement with the tech world:
You’ll see other people whose entire Twitter output consists of nothing but repetitive self-promotion. You probably don’t want to hire someone like this. If they’re constantly broadcasting their company’s message, when will they have time to think about yours?
In the end, deciding whether you want to start a conversation that could lead to hiring someone is the same whether you meet that person online or at a dinner party. If someone seems intelligent, and engages with others in a polite and warm manner, they’re a good bet for further chat.
Aliza Earnshaw is vice president of business development at AboutUs. A former business reporter and editor, Aliza still indulges her love of great writing and working with creative writers while pursuing business opportunities for AboutUs.