Last year we all had to retreat from our usual interactions, which removed opportunities to meet new people. While the virus is still in flux, the idea of networking remains challenging. There’s nothing quite like walking into a room and striking up conversations with a drink in hand, however, with various comfort levels amidst the population, and general uncertainty about variants, it’s hard to know who will be in the room when you sign up for an in-person event. There are virtual events that include networking, but it’s important to make your own efforts too. Refine your skills and think about why networking is valuable to you, and who you are intending to meet. Connecting virtually is a good way to work on improving your networking skills, and will require you to be more strategic in your outreach. A great way to do this is through social media. Overall, the approach online is different because it is more individualized, which can in turn make it more effective. So if you want to continue to make connections outside of in-person events, consider the following tips.
Update Your Profiles
Make sure you’re keeping your preferred contact information and personal details/bio section up to date. Do this on any platform where you have an account, including personal ones. Even if you do not intend for a platform to be the primary place where you make connections, there are two reasons for why having your profiles up to date is important.
- Your accounts are aggregated into search engines, so if anyone is looking to meet someone with your expertise or information, they may find you through any of your social platforms, not just the one you use the most.
- If someone does search you, you can make sure you’re presenting yourself the way you’d like to be seen. It never hurts to do a general Google search on yourself to see what comes up. If you haven’t done this already, you may be surprised at what populates first. Depending on your goals, it may be useful to make updates and rebrand yourself accordingly.
Post, Interact and Share Regularly
Choose a platform or two that you feel you will engage with regularly. While you don’t need to be on it daily, expect to be active at least a few days a week – ideally 3 days or more. While you don’t have to post every time you log in, you should be interacting with your connections each time. Like, comment and share content that is relevant and make an effort to remain authentic. Don’t post something because you think people expect you to, or don’t say things just to be trendy. Say something IF you have something to say, keep it positive and be professional. Especially for the sites where you intend to be interacting professionally, resist the urge to make negative comments, particularly for political or socially charged issues, and don’t get into comment wars! We all have our opinions and there’s nothing wrong with showing support towards others you agree with now and then, but not every post has to be about that. Highlight aspects of your work, and let people understand what you do (a day in the life approach is a good way to think about what to share on your profile). Talk about your industry in the way that you as a professional experience it, and encourage others to join your conversations. Don’t just get on the platform and post to push the latest thing your company is doing – you are not the company’s branded profile. Give people a sense of who you are, and how you work within your role. Share good ideas, tips and information about your work and your industry rather than just the latest company rollout. Information sharing lets people to see you as resourceful and makes your profile more well-rounded, which can even help others find you.
Reach Out with the Intention of a Personal Connection, NOT Just Information About You and Your Business
I read almost every single message that comes to my inbox on all of my platforms but I don’t respond to all of them. When you send a message, remember you are connecting with a person, and your approach should be professional, but similar to reaching out to a friend. I get countless messages that “personalize” their spiel by including my name. If you send me paragraphs about your products or services with links and your contact information, and request an appointment to discuss more OR worse yet include a buying/purchasing ask I will absolutely not return that message. While theoretically including those pieces of information are important when it comes to selling, making that information your opening connection turns you into a spam bot. Show a little effort and have a purpose for connecting other than to say “buy this from me.” Most people network when they have some kind of sales responsibility to their business, and at a networking event people expect that. However, when you are connecting online, there are more reasons for why someone may message you. Unlike a networking event, the act of sending a message does not immediately imply a business interaction and you have to be aware of this and adjust your approach.
The goal of networking is to learn about other people. No matter what someone puts on a business card, website or a social profile, it’s never the whole story. You should always aim to connect with someone to learn about what they need and want, what tools they use, and what might be helpful to them in their role. Being purposeful and having a reason for connecting with that specific person will make your outreach more meaningful and clear. While not everyone likes to connect professionally on socials, they have a profile and therefore that’s a start!
It’s easy and productive to network socially. Be cognizant and polite, do some research and have a goal in mind. While it isn’t the same as being in-person, it can be equally beneficial. With a little effort and continuity, you might even find that you are better at networking online.