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Forget LinkedIn—4 Other Ways To Expand Your Online Network

Here are some lesser-known apps and platforms that can help you build connections outside the standard social networks.

Forget LinkedIn--4 Other Ways To Expand Your Online Network
[Photo: Flickr user Richard Moross]

You already know that places like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are good resources not just for social networking but also for advancing your career. And you probably already know how to use them to locate colleagues, mentors, talent, and potential clients and customers.

But while those platforms are ubiquitous, they're also old news—at least on the business and career fronts. And they aren't the only, or even most effective, ways to expand your network and connect with the people who need to. Here are four other areas worth exploring, plus a few key networks, apps, and platforms to help you break into them.

1. Content (That The Right People Will Actually Read)

As a voracious reader, I love the idea of finding others who can write about topics that I'm interested in and that impact my business. But while we're more awash in content than we've ever been, weeding through it to find what you actually like can still be a challenge. If you're an entrepreneur or job seeker, locating the kind of content you like best can also give you ideas about what sort of content you might want to create and distribute yourself.

An app called CircleMe is one of the best places I've found to help with that interchange. It can connect you with people who offer content you're interested in and, in the process, identify future customers, clients, or employers.

The app lists over a million different interest-categories to choose from. Even with all those choices, I'm still able to create my own passions, then locate the people and content related to them, increasing my chances of targeting people who might want to work with me or my company—whether they're future customers, top talent, or even investors. Once I've pinpointed them, I try and build a sense of trust by exploring other things that they're following, expanding my own circle of interests in turn.

Not only does this help you cut against the tendency to use social platforms simply to blare out one-way messages, it also helps you get a little more targeted. CircleMe lets you discover geo-located content related to your interests so you can solidify these working relationships offline.

2. Events In The Real World

Online relationships can be the starting point for future business relationships, but they're more powerful if you extend those connections during offline, in-person events. An app like Meetup can help you bridge the divide between digital and analog networking, to the benefit of both.

I've used it to join other meetups and transform online networking contacts into something even meaningful. You can search by type of group and event or by geographical distance from your location. It’s free to join a group, but it costs a minimal amount to start your own.

Two other apps that have helped me locate partners, investors, and talent are MEETin and WeGoDo, the latter of which is a free app for iOS devices that includes events by category, local deals, and curated content. Whatever event-based platform you try out, keep in mind that the goal is to find something meaningful—interests, passions, personal or professional objective—that you can share with others, then connect over that in person.

3. Community Involvement

Since social responsibility is such a growing concern, a great place to advance your career or build your business is through activities that help your community—either the one you're already in or one that you're looking to expand into.

I'm already a big advocate of social causes, so I love finding places where I can volunteer and help others. In the process, I've met people who've later come to work with me or have done business with my company. One of my favorite networks is GroupSpaces because it puts you in touch with many different types of groups, from nonprofits to community groups and sports associations. The app also lets you hold online forums and email discussions. And although it's a U.K.-based company that I got connected with on one of my trips back home, it can be used throughout the world.

4. General Interest

The social web is a boon for specialization—there's a niche and sub-niche for everyone. But one thing we tend to overlook while networking online is the power of more generalized, cross-disciplinary interests.

Personally, I like using  Interester. This app for iOS and Android is focused on learning from others about their experiences and leveraging those to make connections with people who have similar interests. It can help you break out of your immediate industry or role in order to meet people from different backgrounds, simply on the basis of passion or curiosity.

Going beyond socializing, Interester intends to help people form more cohesive communities and build understanding across cultures. And more than just sharing interests with the people I meet on there, it's also helped me develop a deeper understanding of other people and places. That's been crucial in shaping what I know about my target customers in order to refine my messages and my offering.

With more people opting for online versus face-to-face interaction, the world has changed in a way that often makes it difficult to find like-minded people to work with. But at the same time, digital networking tools can also offer you a much wider area of opportunity—if only you know where to look.

Murray Newlands is an entrepreneur, investor, business adviser and a columnist at Forbes and Entrepreneur. He is the cofounder of payments company Due and a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. Follow Murray on Twitter at @MurrayNewlands.

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