Networking isn’t just exchanging a business card with someone; it’s the art of establishing long-term relationships and connecting with other professionals. In today’s business world, virtual networking allows you to build and maintain relationships with contacts GLOBALLY. I love how I can connect with someone who lives 20 miles away from me one day, and chat with a contact who lives 2000 miles away the next! In these unprecedented times, networking in the digital space is more important than ever before. As a recent grad, I had just started the process of intentionally networking when the coronavirus hit; the current circumstances have forced me to find innovative ways to continue networking. With extra free time on your hands, now is the opportune time to strategically build connections virtually. Here are a few tactics I have found useful when it comes to networking digitally, as well as other approaches colleagues and coworkers have found work well.
Networking Tactic: Build your LinkedIn Connections
How-to Tips: Use LinkedIn to connect to former or current classmates, coworkers, and people that you have met at events before. When reaching out to connections, personalize your invitation with a note stating how you know them and asking how they are doing during this time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals in your field who you may not know; just be sure to clarify and be purposeful in why you are reaching out. A genuine question or comment goes a long way! Send them a blog post asking for their opinion, or ask them about a lesson they have learned in their current position.
You can also join a LinkedIn group to ask questions, provide feedback, and share articles related to your industry you find useful. There are over 1.7 million groups on LinkedIn, so you are sure to find one that fits your niche or discusses topics you find interesting. For example, I am in the “Public Relations and Communications Professionals” group, which is described as “a group…dedicated to increasing networking and business opportunities for its members.” In the current day and age, LinkedIn networking is a must.
Networking Tactic: Attend Virtual Hangouts
How-to Tips: Whether you prefer Slack Messaging, Twitter Chats, or Google Hangouts, many professionals are hosting hangout sessions to network and connect with one another in unique ways. For example, the Young Professionals of Chattanooga recently hosted a Netflix party via Facebook, where local young professionals joined together for a Netflix watch party (location: your couch or bed). I also read where Vuelio recently hosted virtual yoga for communications professionals, aimed to not only encourage mental wellbeing, but also create an online community where professionals can chat while participating in an activity together. Virtual “happy hours,” luncheons, brunches—they have all exploded recently and are great ways to network remotely. If you’re interested in starting your own virtual hangout, I recommend checking out “8 tips for hosting the perfect virtual hangout.”
Networking Tactic: Join an Online Forum
How-to Tips: Similar to LinkedIn groups, online forums are a great avenue for participating in discussions around what’s happening in your industry or on topics you find particularly exciting. Since professional forums typically involve members who are part of the same industry, I suggest googling “professional online forums for (insert industry here).” For example, I googled “professional online forums for supply chain professionals,” and found that a website dedicated to Supply Chain Forums was the first site to show. HR.com has several active forums, with a community of over 1 million professionals on the site, and I liked this comprehensive list by Meredith Wood of forums for small business owners. Whether you are an educator or marketer, a project manager or graphic designer—you are sure to find a forum that fits you well.
Networking Tactic: Grab “Virtual Coffee”
How-to Tips: For me, virtual coffee dates are especially helpful if you are looking to build deep, one-on-one relationships with (virtual) face-to-face contact. The key to virtual coffee dates (or coffee dates in general, for that matter) is not to have 50 one-time occurrences. Instead, it’s best to have five consistent coffee dates once a month to be able to follow-up on items from the last conversation and cultivate relationships over a period of time. Whether you are young and looking to find a professional mentor or are older and simply wanting to see what experiences people your age have had in the business industry, everyone loves face-to-face connection. In unpredictable times where many people are missing face-to-face connection, virtual coffee dates are a great way to keep that up!
Note: you can also host virtual coffee “group” dates to expand the number of people networking.
Networking Tactic: Update Personal Branding
How-to Tips: While this isn’t a direct form of networking, updating your personal branding allows you to look your very best and impress potential connections. Take time to evaluate all of your sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your website/blog, etc.) and ask yourself: “Where do I have room for improvement? What can I do to make these sites more appealing to the viewer?” If you need guidance on where to start with updating your brand, I love GRIN’s article, “A Guide to Branding Yourself on Social Media,” as it gives a broad, but not overwhelming outlook on personal branding. From developing a strong brand statement to ensuring consistency in your brand voice, image, and tone, these tips will be useful as you begin building an impactful personal brand.
Networking Tactic: Participate in Webinars
How-to Tips: Google “webinars for (insert industry here)” and, more likely than not, you will be able to find a webinar to participate in related to your field. Or, find a webinar related to topics that are of interest to you. HubSpot has webinars ranging in topics from blogging, to website design, to customer service. Or, check out Webinara, which is advertised as “a central hub that notifies users about upcoming webinars within their areas of interest from industry experts, thought leaders, competitors, and others.” Webinars allow you the ability to have discussions with other attendees and give feedback to presenters—both of which enable you to build stronger connections while becoming more educated in a subject. A double whammy for the win!
Networking Tactic: Revive Old Connections
How-to Tips: Use other platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, to reach out to people you may not have spoken to in a while. Everyone is in “checking-in” mode, so don’t be afraid to reach out even if there has been a lack of recent communication. It’s okay to reach out to people who aren’t necessarily in your profession, either; they may have contacts or other resources that could be useful to you. Quality over quantity is also important; you want to make sure you can be proactive in nurturing the relationships you are building and are able to give solid responses at reasonable rates of time. If the conversation continues over a period of time, I like to send handwritten notes to contacts saying, “I am glad we have reconnected, thank you for spending time with me, etc.” Thoughtfulness is valuable.
The beauty of virtual networking is you build connections without ever having to leave your living room. Whether you participate in a webinar on business leadership or you host coffee dates—white chocolate mocha in hand, of course—you’ll be establishing mutually-beneficial relationships on national and global scales. Experts agree that the most connected people are often the most successful, so grab a cup of coffee, develop your digital networking strategy, and get started today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hi! My name is Marah Whitaker (think Laura with an M). I am the Marketing Assistant for UTC Center for Professional Education. During the workday, I spend time writing blog posts, creating content for social media, developing email campaigns, and building relationships with our customer base. During my free time, you can find me getting lost in a good book, having spontaneous dance parties, playing piano, and going to Buffalo Wild Wings on Wing Night. Professionally and personally, I aspire to live by the Mr. Feeny quote, “Dream. Believe. Try. Do Good.” I strive to use my passions to serve others and contribute positively to the world around me.
Connect with me on LinkedIn.