Keys to developing genuine professional relationships on social media

by Ryan garka and will baggett
June 09, 2020

Shortly after joining Twitter in late 2016, I received a direct message from my co-author, Will Baggett. Because I was an attorney with an interest in sports, Will asked for insight regarding a legal studies master’s degree program at a large state university. From that short message, we have kept in touch, supported each other’s professional goals, and developed a friendship almost exclusively through social media.

While social media is not the only method to develop professional relationships, it can be a powerful tool. This article sets out (1) tips for initial social media messages to new contacts, (2) topics for questions to ask new contacts, and (3) methods to periodically develop and strengthen your social media relationships.

We hope you can use this as a professional development tool. – Ryan

1. Communication Tips for Initial Messages (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Every message should be brief, to the point, and enthusiastic. In addition, each message (as well as your social media profile and activities) should leave a positive impression about your personal “brand.” When asking a question or requesting something from your new contact, invite a response by clearly explaining (a) why you are targeting the particular contact, (b) what you are asking for, and (c) why you are asking the question.

Most professionals are inundated with emails throughout the workday. Social media provides an opportunity to connect on a less-congested platform. Brevity is key—your message should make it easy for the targeted contact to review and respond.

Two examples of an introductory Twitter direct message are below. The first is an example of a poor message. It is excessively casual, contains unnecessary details and does not direct the reader to provide a specific, desired response.

"Hey. I saw online that you are an attorney with experience in sports. My ultimate goal is to become a college athletic director or other leader in the sports and entertainment industry. However, I am not sure the best path towards that goal. I graduated from ABC University (where I received excellent grades). I was also on the wrestling team. I already have a master’s degree in sports management and I am thinking about pursuing another graduate degree. Maybe a master’s in legal studies? Can you provide me with your thoughts and advice regarding my career goal? Would another degree be helpful?"

An example of a better message is below. It succinctly provides the sender’s relevant background, frames the question, and clearly solicits a response regarding the sender’s desire to learn more about legal studies master’s degree programs.

"Hi Ryan. I am considering a master’s degree in legal studies. It would likely be online from XYZ University while I continue working in my current position with a college sports licensing company. While I already have a master’s degree in sports management, my ultimate career goal is leadership position that will likely encounter both business and legal issues. Do you have any insight on the legal studies master’s degree or program?"

2. Topics for Questions to Ask New Contacts

Instead of leading with a request for a phone call or informational interview, similar to the example above, consider asking a specific question related to the experience of your desired contact. Potential topics include: (a) advice regarding specific educational goals, certificate programs or advanced degrees, (b) suggestions regarding industry-related events and organizations, or (c) reading recommendations and resources related to your desired field.

Once the initial connection is made, it may be appropriate to ask to have a short conversation (via phone or video conference) to discuss follow-up questions and/or your career goals in more detail. While many aspiring professionals attempt to establish connections by leading with a resume, by reaching out to a new connection with a specific question, you often are better able to build a more meaningful and productive relationship.

3. Developing Your Relationships

After establishing a connection, it is important to maintain and strengthen the relationship. The frequency of these ongoing interactions depends on the type of relationship and the seniority of your contact. For example, you do not want to overload (and subsequently harm your relationship with) a senior level contact by sending daily or weekly social media updates. For most relationships, a quarterly or semi-annual update is sufficient. Some ideas for “staying in touch” are below.

  • -Join the Conversation. When your contact shares something relevant on social media, you can “like” or comment on those posts. If you have (positive or constructive) feedback, do not be afraid to share it by joining the social media conversation.

  • -Special Occasions. Congratulatory messages are appropriate if your contact shares a career achievement online. Short messages regarding birthdays, starts of seasons, and other special occasions also provide good opportunities to re-connect.

  • -Find Common Interests. Throughout your interactions, attempt to uncover common interests. Once uncovered, you will have additional topics to share and discuss. This helps to expand the relationship beyond matters that are strictly professional.

  • -Contribute to the Relationship. Make sure that you are contributing to the relationship. Even if your contact is in a more senior position, you can occasionally share relevant articles, reading recommendations, or information regarding pertinent conferences and webinars.

  • -Career Updates. Keep your contacts updated on significant developments regarding your career. If/when you move to a new position, you can update your contacts with a direct message (and, be sure to thank any contact whose advice helped you to find your new role).

When making new connections (whether through social media or otherwise), remember that it is not a “numbers game.” Instead, focus on developing quality relationships. Genuine interactions can build a strong relationship foundation over time. By investing a modest amount of effort into social media, you can generate significant connections and relationships that will help build your career.

About the Authors:

Ryan Garka Twitter: @SportsLegalese LinkedIn: []( Will Baggett Twitter: @W_Baggs LinkedIn: [](
Ryan Garka served as Associate General Counsel for International Speedway Corporation (and NASCAR following its merger with ISC in late 2019) from 2018 to April 2020\. ISC is a leading promoter of motorsports events and the owner of 13 major motorsports entertainment facilities. Before entering the world of motorsports, he spent over six years as an associate in the corporate, finance and investments practice group at the law firm King & Spalding LLP. A Virginia native, Garka earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and graduated summa cum laude with his juris doctor from the Georgia State University College of Law. While in law school, he worked as a marketing and compliance graduate assistant in the GSU athletics department. Will Baggett, founder and Chief Development Officer at Emergent Executives LLC, is widely regarded as one of the top presenters in the country. Baggett’s passion for developing young professionals spans across his eight-year career as a sports performance coach and administrator. In 2016, he published a bestselling guide for young professionals, [The Blueprint for a Successful Career]( In 2017, he followed up with the launch of the Executive Image workshop, a nationally-recognized interactive training program focusing on the ABC’s of professional presence. Will is also credited with organizing the inaugural Texas Regional Sports Summit, an annual series of events in Dallas, Texas, focusing on experiential professional development opportunities for young professionals and mid-level administrators.