Online Networking – The Right Way

  • On September 16, 2021

Professional networking is a resourceful way for many to find a job and advance their careers. It is also rewarding to connect with others in your profession or industry to share ideas and best practices. However, despite the benefits, many people find the process challenging and sometimes intimidating. The pandemic has made it harder for many workers to grow their professional network, according to studies. Nearly half of workers surveyed said their career had hit a roadblock since the start of the global health crisis, stating they felt stuck by their inability to expand their network.

But before the pandemic, many people struggled to build their professional networks due to lack of confidence, or they were unsure how best to approach the process. While technology makes virtual connections easy, online networking can still be daunting. Plus, making connections through networking events is just step one. Professionals also need to invest time and effort in cultivating and maintaining those relationships.

Choosing the right social media platforms and channels is a good start into online networking. Many professionals lean towards LinkedIn for online networking, as the platform is a common choice for those looking to connect with current or former colleagues, post industry updates, share knowledge, and search for jobs. You can also use social media channels like Instagram and Snapchat for online networking. However, keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable connecting with professional contacts through those applications. 

Participating in professional online communities or forums is another option for building a digital presence and cultivating business relationships. Many communities offer virtual events that are shared through your contacts or ads on social platforms, offering deals for registration or something of value to gather professionals together. After registering for a virtual event, using social media accounts to announce your attendance can lead to conversations with valued contacts who may also be planning to attend the event. During the event, be engaged and if possible, ask questions and share relevant expertise during the sessions you attend. 

Another tip for online networking is to understand the presence you create online. Your LinkedIn profile and photo say a lot about you, so be sure to keep them up to date and look professional. Including important details such as your education, work history, volunteer work and other interests may lead to conversations with your contacts about commonalities, a common goal of networking. Also, if you want to use other channels for online networking such as Facebook, be mindful of the images and posts you’re sharing. You may need to adjust the privacy settings and remove details about other events or interests you only want to share with close friends and family members.

Online networking success isn’t about quantity, but the quality of the contact and how they can help you, or help themselves, through the relationship. So, think carefully before sending and accepting professional network requests. Asking someone you don’t know to connect with you could come across as pushy or create awkwardness. A good strategy is to prioritize connecting with those you’ve worked with or met already. If there’s someone in your extended network you’d like to connect with, asking for an introduction would be a great way to connect with the individual. If you don’t have a shared connection to someone you’d really like to connect with, be sure your outreach includes a note explaining why you’d like to connect. This helps increase your chances of breaking the ice with a new contact and making them feel comfortable with the request. 

You want your connections to be there for you when you need advice or support, but you should want others to view you as a resource, too. Otherwise, you risk weakening those connections and the value they bring to the table. You can be helpful to others by sharing interesting news and commenting on posts. You can also be a good resource by proactively helping others when you can. For example, if you learn through your online networking that a former colleague is looking for a new job, offer to provide a professional reference. Or see if someone in your network might know of opportunities at their company that might align well with the skills and experience of your contact. Don’t forget to thank your contacts for their support, either through a phone call, an email or a personalized note. If a contact does something especially significant — such as help you land a new position or refer you to a great new hire — show your gratitude by sending a small gift when appropriate.

Fostering professional contacts, whether through online networking or in person, requires commitment and doesn’t come naturally to everyone. However, the possible return on your investment is high. When professional networking is done well, you can gain a competitive advantage when seeking jobs, increasing your professional knowledge and staying on top of trends. 

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