Does virtual networking feel awkward to you?
Does the thought of asking strangers for a favor make you cringe a little bit? You’re not alone!
According to research, “Unlike personal networking in pursuit of emotional support or friendship… instrumental networking in pursuit of professional goals can impinge on an individual’s moral purity.”
So if networking feels insincere for so many of us—why bother with it?
Networking, when done with the right intentions, can be very valuable for independent professionals. Networking will help you develop and improve your skill set, stay up-to-date with the latest trends in your industry, keep a pulse on the job market, meet prospective mentors, partners, and clients, and gain access to the necessary resources that will foster your career development.
Working independently in a remote environment can also feel lonely for many. Research shows that those without strong social networks are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses or depression than those who are well-connected. This makes it even more important to focus on building relationships with others for your overall health and well-being.
Put simply, networking is important—even more so in an increasingly online and remote world. So how do you build meaningful connections and grow your professional network online? Let’s find out.
7 Tips to Start Networking Virtually
In an increasingly virtual world of work, how can you build your network and grow your career in the process? Let’s take a look at seven strategic remote networking ideas to help you get started with building your professional network online.
1. Establish your why
Before you start building your network, it’s important to get clear on why you’re networking in the first place. Networking simply because you feel like you should isn’t a strong (or genuine!) reason.
Some legitimate reasons to consider include:
- To find new clients
- To build relationships with other independent professionals
- To grow your public speaking resume
- To connect with a mentor
- To find a co-founder
Consider what you want to gain from your networking efforts. This will help you approach your networking with intention and connect with the people who will help you meet those goals.
2. Start within your inner circle
One of the best ways to start networking is by reaching out to people who already have solid and trusting relationships with you.
Is there anyone in your circle who may be able to help you achieve your goals, or who may be able to connect you with someone who can? Family members, friends, ex-bosses and colleagues, previous or current clients, or other professional contacts can all be useful resources to tap into.
If you’re considering someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, don’t be shy. Send out a personalized email or arrange to have a call with your contact. Be genuine and explain your goals. Even if it doesn’t lead to something straight away—you’ve now taken the first step to build your professional network virtually.
3. Build your LinkedIn presence
You probably don’t need us to tell you that LinkedIn is a fantastic resource for virtual professional networking. If you have a profile but haven’t paid any attention to it in a while, now is the time to spruce it up. In your profile, clearly articulate what you’re looking for professionally. This will help you attract the right connections that will be beneficial to your career goals.
Of course, we’ve all been hit with the generic “I would love to pick your brain” or “I’m looking to grow my network” LinkedIn Inmail. Don’t do that.
LinkedIn networking is more than just adding to your contact list. It also involves building up your presence with content and engaging with others in your community. Your goal should be to attract new contacts instead of always being the one to reach out.
Here’s how you can start building your LinkedIn network:
- Send personalized notes introducing yourself or explaining why you’d like to connect with each outreach request.
- Follow experts and thought leaders in your industry. Engage with their posts by leaving thoughtful comments.
- Create your own content to showcase your expertise as a thought leader. Share learnings, insights, or offer your perspective on a particular topic or issue.
- Search for and join relevant groups on LinkedIn. Actively post and interact in these groups to establish your thought leadership. You could also reach out to group admins to build your network.
4. Attend online events
Online industry events can also be a great resource for virtual networking. Make an effort to attend events and engage with the speakers and other attendees at these events. This helps you meet and build relationships with others in your industry. Some tips include:
- Ask questions or share thoughtful comments.
- Participate in breakout sessions.
- Engage with other attendees via private messaging.
- Share your event participation via LinkedIn and/or Twitter.
Be careful not to overdo it so you don’t appear spammy.
Check LinkedIn, Eventbrite, Facebook, industry newsletters or simply run Google searches to keep tabs on upcoming events you may be interested in.
5. Start a podcast
Feel passionately about a particular topic or industry? Want to share your expertise with a wider audience? Why not start a podcast?
A podcast is a unique way of getting your name out there in your industry. Granted it’s labor-intensive, especially while trying to balance your other work alongside. But, it’s easier than you think and it’s a great opportunity to establish yourself as a thought leader in your area of work.
You can start and run a podcast entirely from home. The guests you host can also join you virtually. This is a great opportunity to build close relationships with your guests (other thought leaders). Plus, you also add to your network by creating a community of listeners interested in your podcast.
6. Leverage informational interviews
Not quite ready to start a podcast but still interested in interviewing industry experts? Consider asking them for a remote informational interview.
An informational interview is when you interview with the sole purpose of getting information from them. An informational interview doesn’t have to be formal and serious either. Consider it a conversation. You could use it as a way to build a relationship with new LinkedIn contacts. Or maybe you met someone at a virtual event that you’d like to get to know better?
This can be useful if you’re considering a career pivot. Ask to interview someone who is already working in the role you’d like to move into. Ask them how they got their start, how they got their first clients, what their career has been like, or any other insights that may be useful for you.
6. Network on other social media
LinkedIn isn’t the only social media networking option for professionals. Depending on your industry (and also your own personality), other social channels can also prove to be very handy for building a virtual network.
Twitter can be a more casual, yet still useful way to start building connections through sharing insights and having conversations. To get the most from Twitter, consider these tips:
- Tweet frequently about your industry.
- Follow leaders and organizations you are interested in.
- Follow relevant hashtags to track down others tweeting about topics of interest
- Interact with, respond to, and retweet other’s posts—especially from those you’d like to add to your network.
While most of us use Facebook for personal relationships, it can still be a valuable networking tool. Here’s how to use Facebook to grow your professional network:
- Share your work or other goals on your personal Facebook page. You never know who in your personal network may be able to help?
- Facebook groups can be very useful for building professional networks as well. Join and engage within professional Facebook groups, especially local industry groups.
Instagram may not be the first platform that comes to mind when you think about professional networking but don’t rule it out. Here’s how you can make use of Instagram professionally:
- Similar to Twitter, follow people and organizations that interest you.
- Engage with those you’re interested in networking with by commenting on photos or responding to their Instagram Stories.
- Join in on Instagram Live sessions hosted by people or organizations you follow. Engage in the discussions, ask questions, and contribute meaningfully to the sessions.
- Build your own presence on Instagram with photos, Stories, and also go Live on Instagram where possible and relevant.
7. Maintain connections
You’ve put in all this work into creating a connection, don’t forget to maintain it. Genuine connections aren’t born out of simply following someone on Instagram or commenting on their LinkedIn post once. It takes effort.
You don’t have to constantly message them to maintain the relationship of course. But don’t be shy to follow up a few times a year with a genuine update. Some ideas:
- Send them a link that you thought they might like.
- Invite them to a virtual coffee catch
- Congratulate them on a career change
- Respond to one of their tweets
- Schedule a follow-up conversation with an event attendee
- Give them an update about yourself.
Keep it short and most importantly, genuine.
It’s Time to Make that Connection
Virtual networking doesn’t have to become an exhausting, all-consuming affair. Incorporate it into your day-to-day life with little actions. Add someone on LinkedIn after an online event. Send an ex-colleague a quick email to let them know you’re just saying hello and wanted to reconnect.
Be genuine in your interactions and you’ll find it’s actually not as icky as you first thought. You can’t automate building relationships, but with the right approach, you can truly build and sustain meaningful professional relationships virtually. Go ahead and get started today.
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