The power of networking shouldn’t be underestimated – good connections can be a source of inspiration, knowledge, ideas and, of course, potential leads.

Using social media to network is an easy, yet credible way to connect with useful people through online conversation or debate. It’s also a brilliant way to build on relationships you have formed through face-to-face networking.

Here are FOUR smart ways you can use social media to network effectively and with a purpose.

Research before attending an event

If you’re attending a conference or an event, do a bit of a research and find out who else is going and who will be presenting at the event. Many events will have a website, LinkedIn Group or Facebook page for their event, where people can comment or confirm their attendance. Post a question or comment – if you start relationship building before the event, you can be more targeted with how you spend your time while you’re there. Follow Twitter hashtags for the event to see who else has shown an interest or said that they are attending.

Introduce yourself before an event

You don’t have to wait until you get to an event before making contact. Using the information you’ve researched, why not connect with people and set up an introduction. Check out LinkedIn profiles to learn the basics about relevant people and look for common connections. If someone you’re interested in meeting posts a comment or has a question regarding the conference, send them a message and suggest meeting at the event.

Follow up with new connections

If you promised someone you would send information or connect with them, it’s best to do it within two to three days after the event. Once you’ve added someone as a LinkedIn connection, you can tag their profile to organise your contacts.

Share information

Share or create relevant articles that your audience would find informative. Join in discussions and answer or ask questions. This will help make you a member of a community but also can also help establish you as an authority figure in your industry.