Successful networking can offer the opportunity to meet new people, strengthen connections, and open doors in terms of professional development and career growth. However, it can be easier said than done, particularly during the past two years of the pandemic.
Traditional in-person industry events and conferences were canceled or transitioned to an online format, while remote working and homeschooling became the new normal. This unprecedented time also showed us different ways to connect and new possibilities as we move forward.
Virtual networking offers countless opportunities to connect with people and groups all over the world. In the past you may have been limited by traveling to a physical location to attend a networking event, but now the world is your oyster. Networking remotely requires some extra effort, but when done properly, it can be almost as effective as building in-person relationships.
So what are the best ways to make online connections and build a strong virtual network that will pave the way for career success? In this article we explore:
Virtual networking or in-person networking?
Attending virtual networking events
Virtual networking via social media
Cold outreach networking
Host your own networking event
Growing your virtual network
How often should you network?
Virtual networking or in-person networking?
Virtual networking has been the popular choice for networking over the past two years due to the pandemic, but as the dust settles, in-person networking is back on the agenda. A good exercise is to consider which format works best for you in order to maximize your network.
Here are some of the pros and cons of virtual networking and traditional networking:
Cost-effective in terms of travel and accommodation expenses
In-person connection is believed to be the best option for relationship-building
Global reach, as not limited by a physical location
Typically attracts a select pool of industry professionals
Virtual platforms can’t always accommodate large numbers so registration costs can be higher
Time-consuming/expensive in terms of travel
Virtual meetings/events can lead to “Zoom fatigue”
Approaching new people and networking in-person can be uncomfortable for some people, sometimes causing anxiety
Attend virtual networking events
Start out by finding virtual networking events online that you can attend. There are numerous online webinars, conferences, and workshops being held online every single day which allow you to connect with professionals in your industry.
Platforms such as Eventbrite and Meetup are popular sites where you can search for virtual networking events by category. Some events will be open to anyone, whereas others may be focused on attracting people with similar backgrounds or levels of experience.
While the amount of virtual events is plentiful, it’s also a good idea to be selective so you can avoid catching “Zoom fatigue!” Choose events that will benefit you and which include participants that you would be interested in connecting with to make the most of your time.
Focus on being an active participant while you attend the event and make plenty of notes as well as sharing your unique insights with the rest of the group.
Check if there is an event hashtag, Facebook page, or event discussion board you can follow and participate in prior to the event being held. This is a great way to network virtually and build some connections before the event even starts.
Maximize the chat feature at virtual events
When you attend a virtual networking event, it’s important to treat the chat box the same as the meeting area at a conference venue. Chat enables you to introduce yourself, provide your input, and get to know the other attendees at the virtual event.
Usually the host will encourage participants to introduce themselves at the beginning of the event so grab this opportunity to network! Here are some top tips for networking in chat.
Introduce yourself in the chat with your name, a brief sentence about what you do, and your LinkedIn URL - mentioning that you are hoping to make new connections.
Chat messages need to be short and sweet. If there are a lot of participants the chat boxes can move quickly and a long message will likely be overlooked.
Prepare some questions to ask the group. This could relate to future trends or emerging issues in your industry or recommendations on upcoming networking events.
Make sure you respond to any LinkedIn connection requests promptly and also post/tag/comment positively on the event on your LinkedIn profile.
According to a LinkedIn global survey, almost 80% of professionals consider professional networking to be important to career success.
Be proactive on social media platforms
Platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter are great digital channels for virtual networking, so being proactive on social media is time well spent to enhance your network.
Focus on engaging with your existing network on LinkedIn by clicking “Like” on posts your connections share that resonate with you, commenting on articles you find interesting, and sharing any relevant content to your following and industry. This will enable you to expand your reach online and grow your virtual network by starting conversations with new contacts.
LinkedIn is also a great place to provide your help. Ensure you are responsive and helpful to your professional network when they reach out for advice. This will show your respect for them and also make them more inclined to help you when you need some support.
Twitter allows you to set up alerts that notify you when someone you are following posts an update, so you can quickly reply. Seek out leaders and peers in your industry who you admire and respond to their posts in a positive and authentic way. You can do this by providing your own unique perspective or demonstrating what you have learned from the conversations.
Insightful post, @nameofperson. I’d never considered the impact of (include title/details of the specific post). Thanks for sharing this!
Virtual networking tip: try cold outreach
Don’t be afraid to conduct some cold outreach activities to enhance your virtual network. The impact of the pandemic has made this a more acceptable approach as people have a tendency to be more open to networking and generous with their time. Try this approach.
Conduct some research on platforms like LInkedIn and Twitter to identify a select number of contacts in your industry that you would love to connect with.
Send a personal message to see if they are interested in a phone call or Zoom chat. Be clear about why you are getting in touch and what you are looking for. This could be to check in about how they are managing the current economic climate or by offering some help or assistance to them.
Be respectful of their time. If you choose to connect via a phone or video call then make sure this is no longer than 20 minutes. If things go well, this time will lead to more time.
Follow up if you don’t hear anything. Wait a week or so and then reach out in a casual way. Don’t send repeated messages as this will just annoy the potential contact.
When you connect with a new contact, always send a follow-up thank you note letting them know that you valued the conversation.
Send bulk or templated messages to potential or new contacts as they will usually ignore them, and this won’t grow your virtual network.
Host your own virtual networking event
Take the plunge and create your own networking event! While this may seem a bit of a challenge, you can actually do this quite easily via a virtual event platform. Here is how to get started.
Choose the virtual tools on the platform that you need to host the event, such as Q&A sessions, live chat, audience polls, and interactive workshops. Some platforms also allow live streaming and free handouts.
Select a moderator who can ensure the virtual event runs smoothly and facilitate discussion between attendees. Ideally try to find someone who has moderated before and who has some sort of connection to the attendees.
Schedule and advertise the virtual networking event via platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook and send direct email invitations to people you would like to participate.
Decide whether you are going to charge a small fee for registration. This could cover any costs from the virtual event platform and also be used to pay special guests or contributors a small fee.
Focus on virtual network growth
Networking is a bit like starting any new relationship. It needs time, effort, and commitment to blossom, but the rewards are well worth it! With attention and nurturing, your existing connections can lead to new connections and exciting opportunities, enabling your network to grow over time.
Be strategic! Connect with people who can help you achieve your professional goals rather than building your network as a numbers game. Focus on people in your career lane or, if you are looking for a change in direction, focus on establishing connections with people in that industry.
How often should you network?
Maintaining contact with your professional network is also vital, as otherwise they may just forget about you, but how often should it be done? Is there such a thing as over-networking?
One school of thought is that you can and should network anytime and everywhere. You never know where a conversation or interaction can lead. While this is a good point, you also need to ensure you don’t burnout and you make the most of networking opportunities.
Balance is key here. Zero networking for weeks and months or binge networking isn’t going to be effective. Regular networking enables you to build relationships. You also need to balance this with the amount of time and financial resources you can allocate to networking. Think about this in terms of bi-weekly, weekly, every fortnight or month (monthly at least).
Planning ahead in terms of a networking schedule and booking events is a good approach. While there may be life or work events that get in the way sometimes, a plan or event booking will make it more likely that you stick to regular networking and meet your goals.
Virtual networking is here to stay! Bear in mind the pros and cons of virtual and in-person networking and decide which one is the best fit for you or whether a combination is ideal.
Attending online networking events, maximizing social media presence, and hosting your own virtual networking events will lead to new connections and exciting opportunities.
Take time to grow and nurture your network. Even if you dedicate a few hours a month, this will ensure your virtual network grows and is successful.