The "official" season of giving is long gone, but when it comes to your professional network, giving should be something you do year-round.
Networks are important. They are powerful. They are essential. And when the economy takes a turn south, they become even more valuable to career-minded marketers.
As a marketer, you're probably feeling the stress of the economic conditions your company is facing. Having worked in corporate marketing for more than 20 years, I feel your pain. I remember that every time there was talk of a recession, the marketing budget would be among the first to be slashed, increasing tension within the marketing organization.
One antidote to the fear, stress, and negativity that often accompanies these inevitable economic challenges is giving to others.
You're well aware of how valuable your professional network is. Network members can help you find a new job or source superstars to work for you. And they are great sounding boards and expert resources who help you become better at what you do.
Effective networking is all about giving. One of the best ways to give to your network members is to help them build their personal brands. And if you help them build their brands on the Web, you demonstrate how savvy you are about the new Web 2.0 world we live in. And, for marketers, being savvy about social media is essential!
Here's a list of 10 free or very low-cost Web 2.0–focused personal-branding gifts. Among them is certainly a gift for each member of your professional network. So take some time to show your network members some love.
1. Recommend a member on LinkedIn. In a Web 2.0 world, nothing says "I care about you" more than a positive reference posted on your LinkedIn profile. Just ensure this contact is in your network and then click on Recommend. You're helping to make this person's LinkedIn profile more valuable and credible—the best kind of personal branding. And, remember, write a personal, descriptive recommendation highlighting his or her greatest strengths and personal-brand attributes.
2. Give a member a link to 360˚Reach (one of my sites). That way, the member can perform a personal-branding assessment. Passwords to the new version are free. Users of the tool reach out to colleagues, friends, network contacts, and so on, giving them an opportunity to reconnect with the members of their brand community.
Register for your own password, and ask your network contacts for their input—letting them know their opinion matters to you. That's a great way to reach out to those important network members with whom you have lost touch.
3. Add a member to your Facebook friends. In the world of social networking, virtual popularity is even better than real-world popularity. And once this member is in your network, send him or her a virtual hug.
4. Buy a personal domain name for a member (e.g., www.williamarruda.com). It costs only about $9 for one year. You can search for and buy domain names at www.godaddy.com. Even if a member isn't ready for his or her own website, buying a domain name is like purchasing a plot of land: You own it, so when you're ready, you can build on it. And before you buy, search for "GoDaddy promotion code" on Google, and you'll probably find a way to reduce the purchase price.
5. Write a blog post about or reference a member on a relevant blog. To find blogs about specific topics, enter your keywords at Technorati. You can also link to the member's website or blog, or put his or her blog in your blogroll. We all know how much Google loves inbound links. Making this contact's blog more popular makes you a star in his or her eyes!
6. Discover a member's Google Quotient. Use the Online ID Calculator (again, one of my tools) to help this contact understand how his or her personal brand shows up online. Use the calculator after searching for this member on Google and then email him or her the results. It's free. And if this person is digitally distinct, he or she will get a badge of honor! And, if not, you can provide advice on how to improve the member's online personal branding.
7. Quote or reference this person in an article you are writing or a presentation you are delivering—and make sure he or she knows about the reference. Post the article on relevant Web portals or slides on SlideRocket. And if you write a press release about it, include it in all free online press-release search engines, such as www.freepressrelease.com. These press releases will show up in this person's (and your) Google results.
8. Rate this person's YouTube video, and share the video with others in your network. Creating and uploading videos can be a lot of work, so recognize a member's efforts. Just search for this person's name on YouTube.
9. Give network members a coffee or a book. Social-networking site Ziggs has struck deals with Starbucks and Amazon.com that allow you to send credit for items at both retailers. You can send gifts to Ziggs members and nonmembers.
Bonus: Use Photofunia to create a fun and unexpected picture of a member. There are dozens of designs to choose from. If you don't have the person's photo, do a Google image search to see whether you can find one (and make sure you have the right to use it). This may not be a personal brand builder, but it's a lot of fun! (Here's one I created with a photo of MarketingProfs cofounder and Twitter superstar Ann Handley.)
Remember, networking is all about giving; and during this recession, helping people with their personal branding is a valuable and appreciated gift.
While you are spreading goodwill among your peers, don't forget your personal online brand. Check out You, 2.0: Assessing (and Improving) Your Personal Brand on the Web (June 12, 2009), a seminar from William Arruda that will teach you the "six Ps" for improving your online brand and the important do's and don'ts for building your online identity.