Digital is the way ahead for business. Explore the best places to network virtually, and expert tips to rock your e-networking online!
In a digital-first world, online networking is a vital tool to supercharge your business or career. With a single click, we have the power to reach anyone. That same advantage, however, is also available to the more than 4 billion internet users in the world. So how does one harness the power of online networking and stand out? How do you work the room and network effectively online when the room size encompasses the world wide web?
Ask any seasoned, in-person, conference networker, and they will share how their objectives and preparation begin way before the actual event. With e-networking, we should apply the same intentionality and systems. Begin with the question – what are my goals and how do I achieve them smartly? Then develop a system as simple as a Google Sheet, to engage, track, evaluate, and ultimately forge a mutually beneficial connection.
Best places to network online for free!
Before we begin with the 21 tips on how to network online, it is important to know all the places you can utilize to expand your network. While there are innumerable options to network online, the ones that offer the benefits of built-in communities to tap, work out better. Here are some great places to begin your e-networking:
Facebook groups are a great place to strengthen your personal and professional brand, widen your network, and grow your business or career. Find the right ones in your niche that offer a combination of peer advice, and business and work opportunities. Use the groups to ask questions, get resources, find clients or job opportunities, follow your mentors, and even get critiques on your work or portfolio. Some good ones are Designers Guild for designers, The Daily Carnage for Marketers. Women Founders Community, Freelancing Females and Business & Career Networking for Women.
As the default online professional validation for business and career professionals, Linkedin also offers innumerable benefits of joining a group. You can message members directly or even initiate a connect by referencing the common group. Explore SocialMediopolis for Social Media Marketing or Harvard Business Review for Management.
To figure out which groups to join, take a page from your contacts – the people you follow or aspire to get to know better. Head to their profile on Linkedin and click on their Interests field. View the groups they are a part of and start sending requests to join.
Several online communities and platforms offer ways to forge connections based on common interests, or even gender. They can be splendid places to find clients, employers, mentors, jobs, or like-minded people.
On Growth Hackers, for example, you can follow people or topics and even interact with top professionals via AMA’s. The Riveter is an online community for America’s working women. Maroon Oak offers a great option for free networking for women entrepreneurs and freelancers. Create a free profile, network, and find jobs and resources. Here is another great list of 23 free online business listing sites that you can review.
Alumni Networks and College resources
Most college alumni networks and resources open the door to a wide range of networking opportunities both with ex-students as well as the faculty. Utilize your network and re-kindle those connections. Ask for referrals, mentorship, or introductions.
Try these top tips for Online Networking in 2020
Whether you’re looking to network for a job, or on Linkedin, with alumni, etc, use these tips to network effectively online.
1. Start a list
Who you already know, who can they connect you with, new contacts to reach out to, etc. adds up over time. If you want to be intentional and not lose opportunities through the cracks, a list is a good way. As I’d mentioned before, a Google Sheet will also suffice.
2. Hone your pitch
Your value proposition should be customized to the intended recipient. A cold lead requires a different proposition than a warm one. Know what you want and what you can offer. It’s difficult to be everything for everybody, so in order to manage that, first create a MVP – Minimum Viable Pitch. Then tweak it as needed.
The internet makes it super easy to know the individual(s) you want to connect with, so show how much care, with your research. Read their latest post, check their social media for any current passions, or even subscribe to their newsletter. Reference your findings in your outreach.
4. Identify key decision-makers
The shortest route to what you want is the right person. The one with the highest chances of a positive response. Invest the time to find that one.
5. Show your voice
Authenticity in communication is key. Be consistent, courteous, and clear- be yourself! When what you say comes from the inside-out, it feels trustworthy, even in online networking.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
6. The win is in the follow-up
It’s not personal. People get busy. Emails drown. That’s why you made that list (see #1), so you can keep track of who you emailed, or where you posted. And then respectfully follow up with a reminder.
7. Lead (and end) with Gratitude
Please and Thank you- the two magic words of our childhood, still work wonders. I personally ensure that even if an interaction did not yield fruit, the last word should be mine, and it should be positive. “Thank you for making the time anyway. Thank you for responding, etc.”
8. Cold emails still work
Contrary to its name, for some of us, a cold email still makes our palms sweat. A well researched, thoughtful cold email, to the relevant person, can nevertheless delight you with a response. In my experience, the harder I think about what’s in it for them, the better I write. And your research matters (see #3)!
9. Personalize it
Humanize your outreach. Personalize it to show that you care. Avoid automation and even if you use a template, customize it with some research. Also, use first names as far as possible, even in online communication.
“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie.
10. Consider a visual introduction
Video intros are on an upward trend- especially now, when so much of our in-person interaction has halted. Use video to your advantage and be creative, albeit brief. Again, remember it’s still not about you.
11. Test often
Whether it’s the subject line of your email or the intro para of your message, spend time on them, as they lead to that next click. Try A/B testing, or in other words, try different approaches to find the one that wins.
Check out these 8 ways to build a personal brand that shines!
12. Be visible
How do you show up online?? Do a Google search on yourself to ensure that your online presence is up to date. Most customers, collaborators, vendors, and stakeholders will check you out online before they even open the conversation. Your branding across the web should be cohesive, and reinforce one another. Share your updates, but try not to be overly promotional or braggy. Even set up Google alerts on yourself to be notified if you or your work are referenced somewhere.
13. Build a portfolio of work
Even if you don’t have any experience, it is possible to build a freelance portfolio as a newbie. Whether you are looking for a one-off project or a long term job, how your work shows up is your gateway to making that connection. Your portfolio isn’t just about what you do, but also what you stand for and why someone should consider you!
14.. Use Social media effectively
Social Media is one of the strongest tools in your online networking arsenal. It provides you direct access into the lives, minds and actions of your prospects and connects, and creative ways to connect with anyone. It also gives you ways to find the right people or communities. Personally, I love Twitter. With its fast paced, 280 character tweets, you can get real-time updates on what’s happening with a company or individual. Follow the right people, engage, share their work, and consistently leave thoughtful comments. That’s what authentic connections demand- time and genuine involvement.
Update and optimize your profile to network effectively on Linkedin. That is now your default, digital business card. You can learn the secrets to a standout LinkedIn Profile, and how to create yours smartly and strategically with our free guide!
15. The power of hashtags
There’s a hashtag for literally everything, and they are a quick gateway to what you might be searching for. Follow hashtags like #jobpost on FB or #gethired on Twitter or specific ones like #writingjob. Or even ones like #writingcommunity to find like-minded peers to network virtually with. You can even Find and Subscribe to Twitter Lists in a niche industry of the people you follow.
16. Use Direct Messaging
But only after a thorough homework and only for adding value.
17. Join groups
As explained before, groups on Social media give you the power to connect on a theme, passion or profession. Facebook and Linkedin have groups, Instagram has Pods, and now even social apps like Whatsapp and WeChat have work-related chat groups.
18. Local first
Yes, you heard me right. Even though the web has no boundaries in terms of your reach, reaching out to people in your own backyard starts the interaction off with a feeling of shared connection. It might make people more likely to connect with you, and even agree to a face-to-face. Most platforms offer a geo-filter to enable you to find local connects.
19. The power of mentorship
You can’t do it all by yourself. You must have people who support you along the way. Mentors matter! They’re a legit “tool” to use to grow your business or career. Plus, mentors who believe in your abilities will help you make the right connections and offer tips on how to network. Whether you dig into your own network to begin or seek introductions through mutual connections, there are some great, accessible ways to find a mentor.
20. Value first
In a world of mostly asks, surprise by giving. When you focus first on what you can do for other people, and not on what they can offer you, it builds a positive network. Be the connector of people, ideas, and opportunities. Making authentic connections online takes time. Make it about them and you will win, eventually!
21. Add creative value
Jack Butcher of Visualize Value promotes this awesome concept of Permissionless Apprenticeship.
“If you want to catch the attention of someone you admire, give yourself a job working for them.”
It’s hard to overlook someone who adds value to your work, without being asked. Read here for ideas on how to use Permissionless Apprenticeship in a Job search.
Effective networking rarely yields immediate results. Instead, it helps you build relationships, and connect with people whose experiences you’re genuinely interested in learning from. Over time, it accumulates positive career karma for you to redeem, for when you may require it. The sooner you make online networking part of your daily routine the better it is for your job search, business, or career growth.
E-networking is a learned skill. While we’ve been thrust into a socially distanced world, the rules for online networking are still fluid and ripe for creativity. The more we can empathize with the people we’re reaching out to, the more likely they’ll be able to empathize with us. Authenticity and empathy fortunately, transcend mediums- digital or not!
You can’t use up creativity. The more you create, the more you have.
A Designer and Entrepreneur, Aditi graduated from a top design school and subsequently started her own design and merchandising business. Co-founder at Maroon Oak, she has over 17 years of business experience with Two Dotts, her design consulting company and an Etsy store which serves as an outlet for her gifts and patented product designs.
A mother to a teen and a tween, she enjoys running, dancing and raising her newest baby, a Bichon named Miltie.