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In today’s world, who you know is just as important as — and sometimes even more important than — what you know, making networking a priority if you’re serious about getting ahead in your career.
But with advancing technologies and COVID-19 impacting how we interact with people, professional networking has made an almost complete move to the digital world. This, however, is good news — particularly for the introverts out there — as it broadens your horizons and accelerates your career goals, all from the comfort of your home.
Still, though, successful online networking requires the same dedication of time and effort, as well as a little bit of creativity, as offline networking does. And we’ve got you covered: whether you’re new to the game, or you need a refresher, we’ll show you everything you need to know about networking online effectively.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
Let’s get started!
The benefits of networking, whether online or offline, are far and wide: you get to share your knowledge, raise your profile, make valuable connections and discover new opportunities.
But online networking, in particular, offers a competitive edge. Whereas you’re typically limited to meeting people at networking events in your area with traditional networking, you get to expand your range with online networking. Indeed, it gives you access to more people and opportunities on a global scale.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should only focus your networking efforts online — offline networking is just as critical to your success as online networking. Indeed, ignoring the power of building relationships in the ‘real world’ could mean missing out on lucrative opportunities that might not otherwise present themselves to you in the digital world. Simply put, you should combine the two for better results.
There are plenty of ways and places to network online if you know where to look.
Here are some ideas:
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the obvious first choice, as its main purpose is to facilitate professional networking. Though there are many alternatives (both established and up-and-coming), LinkedIn remains the largest professional networking platform, with over 740 million members (and possible connections) across all industries around the world.
- Meetup: Meetup is a great place to meet people with shared interests through hosting or attending events like seminars, conventions and simple get-togethers, both online and offline. Events are grouped under various categories — and although the ones you’ll generally be interested in are under ‘Career and Business Events’, it’s a good idea to browse other available categories too.
- Social media: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram are all great for networking. That said, it’s important to choose the right platforms for your particular goals. Twitter, for example, is great for sharing your expertise and initiating conversations with like-minded professionals, while Instagram is perfect for creatives wanting to share their work.
- Online networking events: Many companies, organisations and associations hold online networking events from time to time, which they generally advertise on their websites and social media pages. These are great for industry-specific networking.
Keep in mind that, while you could focus your online networking efforts in a specific place, it’s best to combine as many platforms and avenues as possible for the best outcome.
Here are some useful tips for networking online effectively.
1. Build your online presence
Before you start networking with anyone online, make sure your digital profiles are in tip-top shape. No one will really take you seriously if your online presence is fundamentally lacking or, worse, non-existent.
2. Stay active
Successful networking is all about keeping up appearances. And the only way you’ll get noticed by hiring managers and potential clients is to stay active online.
Whenever you read a news article that you think a connection might find interesting, for example, share it with them. If you’ve got something valuable to add to a post they made, be sure to leave a comment. But be careful: you should be strategic with your interactions — you don’t want to flood their inbox with constant notifications!
3. Connect with the right people
While connecting directly with the big guns of a company you want to work for might seem like the obvious choice, chances are it won’t get you anywhere. It’s all about connecting with the right people.
Say your goal is to land a job as Céline Dion’s personal assistant. Instead of reaching out to the Queen of Pop herself, focus your efforts on connecting with someone on her team. This way, you’ll have a better chance of getting your foot in the door.
4. Make connections regardless their title
If you receive a connection request on LinkedIn from, say, from someone who works as a receptionist, you might reject it without second thought, thinking it's pointless and that they have nothing to offer. But you shouldn’t dismiss possible connections because of their title or status.
Why? Because while that receptionist might not have any hiring decision power, they can still refer you for a position in their company. And this works to your favour, as referred candidates are 13.9% more likely to receive a job offer.
5. Do your homework
Before reaching out to possible connections, make sure you do your homework on them. Find out as much as you can about them: what they’ve done, what they’re currently doing and how they got to where they are. This will help you personalise your interaction with them (more on that next).
6. Make it personal
When you do reach out to someone, make sure you tailor your approach and message to them specifically. You can do this by finding something you can connect on.
This is where all that research you did earlier comes into play. For example, if you’re training for a marathon and you discovered that they are too, be sure to mention it. This makes your outreach more human, and by doing so you’re more likely to grab their attention and get a response.
7. Keep your first interaction short and sweet
Your first interaction with the people you network with online should be short and sweet.
You’ll likely have a lot of things you’d like to say, but nobody wants — or has the time — to read a whole essay from someone they might not have even heard of before or not really be interested in getting to know.
So, keep it brief: introduce yourself, provide some context to why you’re connecting with them (for example: ‘I’ve been following your work because I’m interested in digital marketing’), and then take things from there.
8. Build relationships
Take the time to build relationships with people before you dive straight in to making your request, whatever it is or however urgent it is.
It’s all about timing here. If you ask for a favour from the get-go, chances are the person you’re contacting will feel like they’re being taken advantage of and won’t bother responding. But by establishing a meaningful relationship with them first, they’ll be more open and willing to help you out when you do ask for a favour.
9. Offer your help
Though your intentions are most likely selfish (there’s nothing wrong with that!), like landing a role with a company you want to work for, it’s important that you’re willing to reciprocate the favour in some way.
Remember: networking is a two-way street. If you’re not willing to offer your help, chances are nothing will come out of your networking efforts.
10. Keep in touch
Even after you’ve got what you wanted out of networking with someone, whether it’s landing a job at their company or being introduced to an expert in their field, make it a point to keep in touch with them. After all, you never know when you might need their help again.
This could be something as simple as checking in with them from time to time or occasionally sharing a link to an article that they might find interesting. But don’t overdo it!
11. Take it offline
Just because you connected online with someone, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t arrange to meet them in person. This goes back to the point of building (and maintaining) meaningful relationships.
If you know they’re going to attend a local event, for example, make it a point to attend too, and seek them out. Alternatively, you could try to arrange lunch or even a coffee with them. If you can’t meet in person, meanwhile, a phone or video call will do.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to start your online (and your offline) networking efforts only when you need something (like a referral for a job). This will only result in lower quality connections, and besides, no one really wants to connect with people who are only interested in getting their own needs met.
The sooner you start networking, and the more time you put into building meaningful connections, the better results you’ll have — whatever your goals.
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Join the conversation! Got a question about networking online, or want to share a tip that’s worked for you time and again? Let us know in the comments section below!