The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people socialized, attended events and even impacted how individuals networked with potential employers. Instead of going out to meetings in restaurants, attending conferences and going to meet-and-greets at offices, people started to connect with each other in the online world more than ever before.
People turned towards online communication to develop both personal and professional contacts that would be of value to them in the future. Some individuals formed groups with people who had similar interests and hobbies to them, and other people networked with professionals who they’d be able to call on in the future for career and business advice. And this was all achieved by people using digital tools.
In this article, I will advise you on how to make the most out of online networking, and I will give you a couple of practical tips to help you out as you connect with friends and business professionals around the world. So, let's go!
Steps To Take When Networking Online
It is generally accepted that one person is only six or less connections away from knowing another person. In short, one friend knows another friend, who knows another friend and so on - which means that we are never too far away from knowing someone. This is most commonly known as the ‘six handshakes rule’. And with this in mind, you can appreciate how easy it is to network with people from around the world, whether it be for professional or personal reasons.
And while there are many possibilities when it comes to online networking, it is generally believed that by making contact with people who interest you, and building a network of acquaintances in a field you would like to work in, that it might be easier for you to start or build your career. Although, you must network correctly to get the most out of this.
When networking online you must plan out your activities, your goals, and you need to decide on what you hope to achieve from this activity. Planning is just as important as the process of actually making connections. So, this is what you should do to prepare yourself for an online networking session.
- Clearly define your goals. Decide what exactly you want to achieve by the end of an online networking session. For example, are you planning on attending an online conference? Are you looking for a new client and want to make a sale? Are you looking for a business partner? Do you need to find a good contractor? You should not set unrealistic goals for yourself, it is better to achieve a small but guaranteed result than to waste time trying to do everything at once.
- Find out everything you can about the person you intend on connecting with beforehand. Try to decide in advance who you need to connect with and find common ground with them. You will need to decide how you can be of value to the person in return as well. Doing your homework in advance will help you to discover where a person works, what a person does in that position and what projects the person has worked on, for example.
- Be organized. Make a detailed plan that outlines who your important connections are, important information about them, and note down details about when to contact them.
- Prepare your materials. Prepare the necessary documents you will need to give to the contact you have made in advance (presentations, portfolio and resume, for example). This way you will be able to get even more acquainted with your contact, rather than wasting time looking for documents at the last minute.
- Think about what you will talk about with your connection. If you want to make a good first impression, you should prepare what and how you will say things to your contact. Preparation is the key to success when networking. You will look much more confident if you prepare beforehand.
As you can see, preparation and planning are crucial when it comes to online networking.
Following on from the above, let’s take a look at some tips to help you build your network of contacts.
Tip 1: Define your audience
If you're planning to host a virtual event, for example, it's worth considering your audience. You should invite connections that have a similar interest, and would like to discover more about what you have to say. Your audience could be made up of business acquaintances, colleagues or investors, for example. And their reasons for attending this virtual event may be different. Some reasons may include:
- Emotional support or positive experience
- Searching for clients, partners and contractors
- Sharing ideas
- Searching for a mentor
- Looking for new friends by discussing a point of interest
- Studying and discussing future trends with like minded individuals about a particular field
It is also worth considering if audience members know each other or not, because this will impact the structure of the event. A group of complete strangers will need an "icebreaker" exercise to get them acquainted with each other. But, if all members know each other, this isn’t essential.
Once you have determined who will be attending your event and why they are attending, you can move on to preparing the event.
Tip 2: Breaking the ice
When you contact a person(s) for the first time, for example, at an online conference, you need to somehow “break the ice” with the individual(s), so that they feel comfortable and at ease. If a contact(s) feels weary or uneasy they will not contribute, and perhaps this bad experience will lead to them disconnecting from you.
The following techniques will help you to “break the ice” with your contact(s):
- "Joint Journey". If you are talking to a contact who is in another part of the world you can start by telling them about your city and country, then they can discuss their city with you. This is a good conversation starter. A few words about the weather, about the current situation in your region will also help to get a person talking.
- Domino Principle. Another way to start a conversation with a contact is to find a common interest(s). For example, one person says that they like bicycles, and another person says that they also love cycling, and the two contacts then proceed to discuss what trails they have cycled along.
- Humor is a universal language, it brings people together. If you can find something to laugh about with your contact you’ll find that the ice will be broken fairly quickly. Jokes, memes and even funny stories will do.
Tip 3: Be active and professional on social media
If you want to be noticed and taken seriously by potential partners and clients you need to take care of your social media page. Do not post silly pictures and memes, instead post content that is relevant to your profession and meaningful to your career.
In addition, it is worth writing professional articles from time to time, especially if you can present your interesting and valuable experiences in them. It provokes reactions and discussions from people. And don't forget to participate in discussions about other people's posts. It takes as little as 10-15 minutes a day to do this. You could respond to posts during a coffee break for example, it’s just as easy as scrolling through your Facebook’s news feed.
All this will significantly increase your recognition, and sooner or later the right contacts will find you. After a few friendly exchanges, you will feel comfortable exchanging messages with new contacts.
One of the best social networks for professionals is Linkedin, but Twitter and dedicated Facebook groups are also worth looking up.
Tip 4: Use different strategies for each platform you decide to use
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube… All these platforms are great for networking, but they are all very different.
You only write short posts on Twitter, on LinkedIn you should never post anything about your personal life, dedicated Facebook groups are the perfect place to post your own articles and to start discussions on, and to use YouTube you need video content.
You can, and should, use these platforms but in different ways and for different purposes. For example, Twitter can be used to promote sales or special offers, Facebook could be used to allow customers to talk about your products and to share their experiences online, LinkedIn could be used to build trust with your key people, and YouTube could be used as an advertising space.
Tip 5: Follow the news in your professional field
Building a solid network of professional contacts ultimately depends on two things: your consistency and your dedication to the field.
If you consistently post interesting information about new discoveries, or you highlight papers worth discussing with your contacts, they are likely to take an interest in you. If you, however, discuss trivial topics that have little to no impact in your professional field, contacts are less likely to pay attention to you. They may even disconnect with you because they don’t want to read or see irrelevant content from you.
Tip 6: Remember the power of keywords
If you are going to be creating content for the people in your network to read, you should use keywords in your titles and in your posts. Keywords aid in the search engine optimization process, and they are the words that your acquaintances are going to type in to find results. So, use them wisely.
Think about the words you should include in your content to strengthen your position and to achieve your goal. Think about what links you need to add to your work to increase its validity too.
You need to know what your connections are searching for, so you can target the keywords.
Tip 7: Recommend other people’s products and services
One of the easiest ways to get attention is to recommend the products and services of one of your connections to the people in your online network.
If you actively promote other people’s businesses, you might make some new friends, but you will also get referrals yourself because people will recommend you in return.
Talk about other companies in your blog posts and on social media. You may be surprised at how quickly you get noticed and how this leads to more opportunities for you to grow your online network.
Tip 8: Provide value first
The secret to achieving online success is to provide your network with value, before you get value from your network.
Sharing interesting information with contacts on social networks, commenting on posts on the internet, and providing useful information via email to people will all work. You can also support new projects funded by Crowdfunding.
If you provide great value to your audience, they will keep on coming back to you for more, whether that be answers to questions, support or product advice. Giving value first is incredibly important because it helps to build trust with your network.
Tip 9: Find the right time
You must understand when you can talk to someone. There is not always a “perfect” time per se, but there are usually good times to talk to the people in your network. If you need to reach out to a contact, figure out when is the best time to do this, this way you are more likely to speak to the contact and less likely to be turned away.
If you need to contact a company director an hour before the official start of the working day, for example, the director will most likely be in the office, but other employees probably won’t be at work to answer your call. So, your call might be left unanswered, even though it was important.
Tip 10: Use the skills of a marketer
When reaching out to contacts for whatever reason, creativity is key. Your post, letter or tweet should be remembered by your contact.
You should focus on speaking/writing your message out clearly and understandably, the title of your content needs to be eye-catching and you also need to be specific. Remember that you must make your text concise, memorable and free of typos.
Keep in mind that a lot of people have not got the time to read huge amounts of text, so your content needs to grab the attention of a reader as quickly as possible.
It is never a good idea to send an email that’s full of heavy text, for example. Keep emails short and to the point, and you should write down exactly what steps you need your contact to take next.
And don’t forget that if at first you fail to get a response from your connection, don't give up, just be more creative next time.
Tip 11: Personal approach
One of the worst mistakes you can make when making connections online is to reach out to someone without giving them some kind of context.
We live in a world of spam and information overload, and people have learned to filter out most of the information they consider unnecessary. So, if you show up out of nowhere with some kind of random message, your message will most likely be considered as spam, and will be ignored by the recipient.
To prevent this from happening you need to increase the credibility of your content, and you can achieve this by adding your personal touch to messages. Only then will you get the attention you need from your contacts.
Everyone knows that common connections can help, so don’t ignore the smaller things you have in common with your network. For example, having the same education, work experience, and social interests as a contact will help you to communicate with them.
Tip 12: “Brevity is the soul of wit” - keep your message short and sweet
If you are writing a book, then detailed explanations and descriptions are expected. But if you are making contact with someone for the first time, long winded and wordy texts are not going to help you. Nothing turns people off more than lengthy messages that are filled with irrelevant details.
Use short sentences and simple words. And if you cannot put your main idea into easy to understand words, learn how to do it. The ability to summarize your main ideas will help you not only in networking, but also in work in general.
Keep the tips above in mind when networking online. And remember, you can use as many or as little of these tips as you like. In addition to this, if you have a well thought out plan you will be able to grow your online network in no time.