You know that building your professional network is key to your success—and that it expands to the outer reaches of your personal, professional, virtual, and real life. It’s hard, any way you slice it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise—and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t build your professional network online. You can—and should.
With online learning here to stay, your online connections matter more than ever.
Let’s take a look at four to approach online networking — without sacrificing quality.
1. Build your social media accounts for networking
Think about social media networking the same way you think about traditional networking.
Robert Caruso, former co-founder of Bundlepost and operator of the digital content marketing website fondalo.com, says on Cision.com, “I approach social networking similarly to the real world. Get to know other people first, provide value to them and they naturally will want to know about you, what you do… It’s human nature and how we are designed. Working within that design will always see results.”
Consider the source—and don’t pigeon hole. You never know when a personal connection can become a professional one. On Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, there are nearly two billion users combined, the largest of which is Facebook, encompassing just over half that population.
The more you use social media with professional networking in mind, the more you’ll be able to connect with others—and see results.
2. Contact people for specific reasons
For these connections to be authentic, you need to have a reason to contact someone. Sending generic tweets or comments isn’t your best bet. Research the people and the organizations that you want to learn more about—and those that think might be interested in knowing you.
You can send an email introduction in the form of queries, thank you notes to authors for books you like, or responses to online articles. If it helps, draft longhand—writing longhand first forces you to slow down and think about what you want to say and why.
Regardless of what you send, know this: your contact should be tailored, specific, thoughtful, and engaging. The more thoughtful the “ping,” the more likely it is that someone will respond—and your professional network expands.
3. Attend more than just networking events
The world is still real, even though we connect virtually. The power of human connection is priceless.
Attend events not necessarily labeled “networking event". Conferences, workshops, fundraisers, tradeshows, sporting events, theater events, restaurant events—attend the ones that attract the types of contacts you hope to meet, befriend, and maybe even make a professional connection
Always bring a business card. You never know who you’ll meet.
4. Make personal connections
But don’t be creepy. Especially when you’re meeting people. And when you’re curious? You ask a thoughtful question or two—and then you listen. You listen more than you talk.
When you show that you’re genuinely curious about people—what they do and why they do it, where they’re from, and what’s important to them—you open the door for not only meaningful professional connections, but meaningful friendships, too.
Brooke B. Sellas, Founder and CEO of BSquared.Media, a social media marketing company says, “For me, networking is all about the person sitting in front of me (virtually or in real life). That said, I like to ask questions that help me understand them and their needs, but also uncover areas where I may be able to connect them to someone (or even myself) for business.”
If you struggle with making those personal connections, consider something like a deck of conversation starter cards—they’re sure to get your wheels turning.
Building your professional network online is a lot like building it in person—it requires perseverance, persistence, and a desire to connect. Ready? Go for it. And remember: be kind, be genuine, and be yourself.