When Face-to-Face Isn’t an Option: A 10-Step Guide to Networking Behind a Screen
With continued limits on in-office interaction, making water cooler talk a thing of the past, professionals are flocking to digital platforms like LinkedIn and other social media to stay connected with colleagues, clients, and prospects. But skipping traditional networking soirees, conferences, and meetups isn’t all bad. If small talk with strangers while exchanging business cards and polite conversation isn’t a strong suit, and the thought of networking behind a computer screen seems impersonal and overwhelming, keep reading. If you know how to navigate this new normal, there’s greater autonomy, flexibility, and substance to be found online. Here are a few key tips on how to engage and build relationships when face-to-face networking isn’t an option.
Nurture your Network
Building relationships of any kind takes time and it’s important to make networking a consistent and frequent part of your day to day. In order to build trust, establish a track record of reciprocity. Frequently offer up information or personal introductions to your own connections. After all, you want a network that can support you when you need it, and it’s easier to ask someone for help when you’ve offered it to them in the past. Attempting to quickly develop a network only when you’re facing a layoff or an impending missed quota, will be too little too late.
Start with people you know. Whether an email, call, or a LinkedIn note, take a few minutes each week to reach out to those you used to see in person. If you see or hear about a colleague earning a promotion or changing jobs, send a congratulatory sentiment right then. What goes around comes around!
Don’t be shy about reconnecting with professionals in your network who haven’t heard from you in a while. It’s likely you will both have news to share since your last encounter, and most people are flattered by an opportunity to catch up.
If you are genuine in your approach and seek to connect by inquiring about the wellbeing of those you contact, you’re more likely to get a positive response. Diane Darling, author of “The Networking Survival Guide,” recommends people go through their LinkedIn contacts and put them into a spreadsheet. “Then simply say, ‘How are you? What’s new? Is there anything I can do for you?” 1
Focus on sharing insights and personal experiences to avoid being “salesy”. Seek to learn about the person you’d like to network with, make sure to always ask thoughtful questions and be respectful of their time.
Set meetings for a few minutes at a time, so the encounter doesn’t feel like a burden and be sure to confirm your intention to adhere to the allotted time at the opening of the meeting. 15-30 minutes is enough to touch base, engage and make an impact!
Cast a Wide Net
While more is only better if the connections you make are relevant to you, don’t hesitate to seek out individuals outside your immediate field of expertise. It’s likely that you’ll meet some professionals whom you connect with deeply and others who will only be surface acquaintances in the long run. You never know how a seemingly weak connection may drive opportunity to meet a more valuable connection in the future. If you want a robust network that offers the greatest opportunity, attempt to access as many leaders as possible.
Embrace the Space
Leverage Online Tools – Web conferences and in-person networking opportunities like meetups have gone virtual. Sign up for virtual conferences and check out the networking tools they offer.
A recent online conference hosted by Women In Technology (WIT) used Zoom as a video platform and offered attendees who purchased VIP tickets the opportunity to participate in pop out meeting rooms prior to the event. Acting as a virtual mix and mingle session, attendees could chat directly with conference speakers who were C-suite executives from enterprise organizations around Atlanta.
But attending online conferences isn’t the only way to connect. Follow those who inspire you on social media and engage with their content. By showing your interest to your contacts directly via likes and comments, you’ll also affect the algorithms that determine the content you see in your feed.
Do your research beforehand and reference their interests and accomplishments in your connection efforts. Aside from a standard Google search, look at their social media profiles, newsfeed posts and website. When you lock in the meeting, prepare to talk about an article they’ve written or an online video publication they’ve published. Taking a little time upfront can create a more meaningful and memorable conversation.
Demonstrate you have something to offer that will make it worth their time to connect. Find an article that, based on your research, might interest them or identify someone in your network they might benefit from meeting. Remember, it’s easier to receive help when you’re known for being a helper yourself.
Ask for Advice
Almost everyone is willing to offer up their opinions and advice when asked, but if you want the best results, get specific about what you need. When asking for subject matter expertise, make it easy on your contact by giving them an example scenario they can think though. Additionally, if you would like to be introduced to someone in their network, name that person specifically, rather than asking broadly, “do you have anyone in your network I should meet?”.
Be a Thought Leader
The absolute best way to grow your network is to be seen as a thought leader in your industry. According to the Forbes publication “4 Signs You Might Be A Thought Leader in Your Industry (and How to Capitalize on It”, thought leaders carry major sway within their industry, thanks to their unique knowledge, insights or skill. Their opinions matter, and their services are always in high demand. Publishing content to your social media platforms is a great way to toot your own horn and share valuable insight that others would love to benefit from. 2
Networking connects you to individuals and companies alike, but once you’re connected it’s critical to cultivate solid relationships that last. At Strive, we understand the value of building relationships through networking – in fact, we’ve built our business around it. Our commitment to connecting the clients we serve within our vast network is a large part of what makes our delivery model so successful. By building relationships with a focus on individuals, as well as their companies, we are able to introduce our clients to others in their own organizations, as well as different clients we’ve worked with throughout similar industries. Our clients are some of the most prosperous, technologically advanced organizations across the country and Strive grows with them. Leveraging proven experience, Strive is able to tackle challenging problem sets through a pragmatic and modern approach, all while keeping our network and client relationships at the heart of everything we do.