When it comes to building your career, networking is easily one of the most popular strategies to implement. Eighty percent of professionals report that they find networking to be essential to their careers, and the numbers support their theory. One report from HubSpot indicates that as many as 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking. Networking helps you make connections in your field, advertise your professional abilities, and lay the foundations for personal relationships that can help you land new positions.
The rise of social media, particularly LinkedIn, started a trend toward a growing amount of online networking. This trend only accelerated during the pandemic as in-person events were canceled and people found themselves transitioning to online events.
Many professionals have discovered that online networking, such as networking on LinkedIn, can provide several benefits for them as they build their networks. We will explore what you should know about online networking and tips you can employ to make your networking efforts even more successful.
What Is Online Networking?
Online networking involves using various social and digital tools to build personal and professional connections online, instead of in person. This kind of networking can take a variety of different forms. It could involve communicating through messages on LinkedIn, joining professional groups on social media platforms and starting conversations with the members, or attending hosted events through platforms like Zoom, for example.
Just like in-person events, these types of online networking events offer opportunities for professionals to engage with others and build their connections. Many professionals have found a number of benefits to online networking.
Benefits of online business networking
With online networking, you will uncover a variety of benefits that might intrigue you. Here are a few that we have found:
- You are no longer limited by geography. When you network online, you do not have to limit yourself to those who live right around you and you do not have to worry about paying for flights or hotels, just attend from your living room or home office.
- With the ability to cut travel expenses, as discussed in point one, you will also be able to save time and money when you attend virtual events.
- Many virtual events will let you archive sessions. When attending in person, many people try to bring a recorder or a notebook to furiously jot down notes. With many online events, you can receive recordings of sessions and related materials, ensuring you do not miss anything.
- Take advantage of multitasking capabilities. When you attend events from the comfort of your own home, you can send messages or listen to sessions throughout your day. Rather than giving up your entire day to attend an event, or often a few days, you can jump into the sessions that matter to you and spend the rest of your time on important tasks for your job.
If you have begun to see what makes online networking such an appealing setup for many people, then let’s review some tips you can implement to get the most out of these networking opportunities.
Tips for Online Networking
Networking online can be a little different than networking in person. Many people find that they have to take a more assertive role in connecting with others. For example, you will not casually bump into someone at the snack bar in between sessions.
On the other hand, countless aspects of the networking environment remain the same. You have the chance to connect with other professionals in your industry and you want to make a good impression. Here are some key tips that you can put to work to optimize your networking opportunities.
Determine your goals for networking
Before you attend your first virtual networking event, you want to take a few minutes to determine precisely what your goals are for networking. Establishing your goals first can help you plan which events you want to attend and the type of people you want to connect with.
To get started with this step, begin by outlining where you are professionally and what you would like to accomplish over the next few years. Define what you would like to accomplish professionally in both the long term and the short term. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Do I want to find a new job?
- Am I content in my position, but want to keep my options open?
- Do I want to focus on building knowledge about my industry?
- Do I want to find people to potentially add to my team?
As you begin to outline your overall professional networking goals, you now want to make precise goals for the networking events you will attend. You might set goals such as:
- I will speak to 5 new people
- I will connect with 3 people who work at companies where I want to work
- I will learn a new strategy pertaining to my work at a session today
Your goals can then help you move forward with your network planning.
Plan the types of people you want to connect with
Now that you know the goals you want to achieve through your networking, it is time to plan the types of people you would like to meet through your efforts. Having a plan outlined can help you use your time wisely during the networking opportunity so that you make optimal connections.
Begin by setting your goals and determining the types of people you would most like to connect with to help you achieve them. Do you want to connect with mentors and industry experts? Do you want to find some young, promising professionals who could help you accomplish great things with your company? Knowing the types of professionals that will best contribute to your goals will help you strategize your networking efforts.
Then, continue making your plans by researching the types of events that your desired connections are likely to attend. You can speak with others in your industry to learn more about the attendees at different events. If there are industry leaders that exemplify the types of connections you would like to make, you can see which events they will likely attend.
Research where to network online
Now that you know the type of people you would like to connect with and the goals you want to achieve, start researching online events to attend.
Look at business networking groups and organizations centered around your industry and your professional goals. See if they host or recommend different events. Research how these events have gone in the past and speak with previous participants to see how well they align with your professional goals.
The second place to look for events is by speaking with others in your industry. Ask them about their favorite events and what makes them prefer these specific networking opportunities. If you have a mentor, let them know about your professional goals and see if they can recommend a particular learning opportunity that will fit well for you.
Draft your introduction message
Once you have chosen events to attend, you want to create an introduction message that you can use at your virtual networking event. This message should clearly communicate your professional credentials and what you want to achieve. This will help you start conversations with others during the event.
To write a quality message, read those posted by others in similar positions. If you have colleagues who have attended virtual networking events in the past, you can ask to review their messages. You can also ask mentors and others you admire in the industry how they draft their introductory messages.
Then, as you sit down to write, think about what you want to communicate. For example, consider the unique attributes and interests you bring to the industry. If you have an interesting background that brought you to your current job or hobbies that can spark a conversation, you might want to include those. If you want to learn about a particular area of the industry, a line articulating what interests you about that area of expertise can help you create a more interesting introduction.
As you attend your networking event and virtually connect with others, focus on communicating your authentic self. You want people to connect with you personally and professionally, not feel as though they are just on a long list of people you sent a LinkedIn invitation to after an event.
To communicate authentically, focus first on building a few key relationships from an event rather than meeting as many people as possible. This allows you to take the time to actually get to know them and establish a more genuine conversation. Using your notes and strategies from earlier steps, you will know the types of people you want to meet and where you want to focus your energy while networking. This will help you better achieve your goals.
Secondly, think about what you want to communicate to those with whom you make a connection. Consider what you can offer that might be of interest, such as a great article you recently read or an industry-interrupting technology you recently encountered. Having some conversation starters ready can help you start interactions that will allow you to build a more authentic connection than simply exchanging contact information.
Be of service
An excellent way to make a good impression is to be of service to those with whom you connect.
To be of service, consider in advance some ways you can help professionally. If you are looking for a new job, for example, you might discuss some of the latest research with leadership at related companies and then offer to send them the documentation so they can learn more about it. Having a few organized ideas about how you can be of service to others can help you uncover opportunities to unveil this connection-building strategy.
Then, don’t be afraid to offer your assistance when you see the opportunity arise. Ask people how you can help if they voice frustration with something. If you do offer to be of service in some way, make sure you follow through. Altogether, this will greatly benefit your reputation.
Communicate on a regular basis
Once you leave your networking event, remember that the value comes not from adding numbers to your LinkedIn network but rather from connecting with people who will benefit you professionally. Therefore, you need to communicate on a regular basis.
To establish this regular communication, make sure you follow up with people after events. Ask them about their experiences, continue conversations you started during the event, send them articles with the research you referenced, and otherwise look for ways to continue the conversation.
Even long after the networking event, nurture your quality connections. Reach out to them if you read something that might interest them or if they post something about the growth of their own career. Maintain that connection so you continue to be a familiar face and a valued connection.
Attend virtual networking events
Finally, continue to attend your virtual networking events. Take advantage of what digital networking has to offer for those who want to build their connections virtually. There are two steps you can take to improve your success.
To begin, learn how to navigate virtual events. See how you can get to break rooms that let participants engage directly, rather than just listening to speakers. Additionally, turn on your camera if you can and make sure your background is professional to help you make optimal, more personal connections.
Since you attend the events virtually, take advantage of the chance to attend events you might not have been able to go to in person because of distance or timing.
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