Since 2020 we have experienced lockdowns, venue restrictions and cuts to our regular networking event programs… and many are now finding that they prefer a hybrid or online-only approach to business and relationship development. Online networking activities can be shorter, more to-the-point and save lots of time and money otherwise spent attending in-person meetings and events.
But online and virtual networking presents some limitations and challenges, and we have all felt these in the recent past! It can be harder to meet and build rapport with new people online, and many of us have experienced webinar and social media fatigue.
How can we think more creatively and strategically about networking online, to make it effective and enjoyable? Here are 3 guiding principles that I have found work for myself and my clients building their business or career.
Online Networking Principle #1: A little extra effort goes a long way
When you’re meeting someone in a virtual coffee, pitching your business in a sales conversation online, or presenting a webinar, you have to do a fair bit more to achieve the same level of connection and impact.
Plan the experience carefully, including having a clear purpose and a loose structure to the conversation; and have digital visual aids at hand in case you need them to illustrate a point.
Ensure you’ve done your research on the person you’ll be talking to. Knowing something about them helps you connect easily and structure great questions you can ask that will lead to meaningful conversations.
Your non-verbal language matters more than ever online, because people can’t benefit from the energy in the room that you might otherwise create together! It’s important to ensure you are facing the person you are talking to (be careful if you are on two screens or referring to notes!), that you turn up the wattage on your smile, and glance at the ‘green dot’ every now and then, to give the experience of direct eye contact.
Online Networking Principle #2: Leverage the online activities you already participate in
Did you know that LinkedIn is primarily an online version of networking – not just a place to post promotional material or display your CV? Have you thought about how you can leverage the webinars you attend? Is there hidden gold in your email contacts list?
Try these ideas to make the most your daily online activities and strengthen your network:
Review your LinkedIn connections for relevance to your current work and career or business goals. Then make a plan to visit the profiles of some of your top contacts on a regular basis, to see what they’re up to and engage with their online activity. This is a ‘soft’ way to stay on their radar, show support for their work, and start conversations!
If you’ve attended an interesting webinar and feel you can contribute to the topic, why not seek an introduction to the organisers or speakers? You’ll have a common topic to start a meaningful conversation. You could also investigate the organiser’s social media pages to look for mentions of the event – they will often tag others involved, whom you may like to meet.
If you’ve developed content for a blog, media outlet or speaking engagement, this is an opportunity to reconnect with email contacts, such as past clients, enquiries, colleagues and service providers. If a piece you’ve developed could be of genuine use to some of these contacts, this is a great opportunity to send them a quick, personalised email with the information – you will at least touch base in a meaningful way, but it may also open up your next conversation, referral or booking.
Online Networking Principle #3: Be creative to connect and re-connect
Think differently using the tools you already have available to connect with people online:
LinkedIn voice message: Did you know you can leave a voice message via LinkedIn’s Direct Messaging function on your phone? This is a great way to surprise someone and to make your message personal and casual. It’s a wonderful method for touching base shortly after a first meeting.
Do you use Whatsapp socially? It’s also a great tool for connecting a group of people with a common business interest – a casual, member-led Whatsapp discussion group can be a great complement to formal networking events, for example.
Have you tried using Zoom or Teams for more than a one-way webinar or a boring meeting? You can use a meeting format to invite guests to network with each other and discuss pertinent business topics. Keep it simple and small, and think about who in your network you could personally invite who would enjoy and benefit from meeting each other. You as the host will be appreciated and remembered!
Did you know that Clubhouse has a following amongst business audiences? This audio-only platform is a great way to take the pulse of what is being talked about in different industries and topics, and also allows you to connect with speakers and audience members to continue the conversation on your own. It’s relatively easy to get onto this invitation-only app.
Once you have a plan in place of the activities that suit your network and you start trying out these ideas, you will discover that networking online can be just as effective and allow you to reach more of the right people, faster. While we all want to connect with other humans face-to-face, there is a lot we can achieve behind the screen, and a hybrid model may be the perfect plan for you going forward!
Julissa Shrewsbury Brand Culture & Team Personal Branding Specialist
Brand Culture Advisor and Personal Branding for professionals author, speaker and workshop facilitator, Julissa Shrewsbury works with boards, organisations and teams at the level of Brand/Culture connection: She explores the clarity of a brand’s messages to internal and external audiences, and how well the brand is expressed through its people, at every level of the organisation.