In the digital-world, virtual networking has become a key part of daily life. Here, futurist and influencer Bernard Marr explains his top tips for better virtual networking and how building your online brand can boost your career.
Whether you’re employed, self-employed, a leader in your industry, or someone who’s just starting out, making connections is an important part of attracting new opportunities and advancing your career. But in the digital age, where social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter allow us to connect with people from across the world, turning an initial invite into a strong, online connection requires knowledge of who, when, and how to network.
So, what are the best ways to “meet” new people and make those key online connections to build a strong, virtual network that can help you achieve long-term career success?
One of the first steps is to identify who you’re trying to connect with and why. There are plenty of online webinars, conferences, and workshops happening every day, and they’re a great place to connect with key people from your industry. When you do attend virtual events, introduce yourself in the chat and include your location and your targeted job title (or what kind of clients you work with, if you’re a freelancer). This helps potential contacts understand what you bring to the table and how adding you to their network will help them in their roles, and vice versa.
Joining industry groups on social media can also introduce you to new connections in your field who share your interests. Engaging with posts, asking or answering questions, and sharing other people’s content in the group can help build your reputation amongst your peers and lead to better connections.
If you’re looking to grow your network outside your own industry or find new clients to connect with, it’s important to take some time to research the relevant people to approach. This could be people who work at companies you are interested in, previous co-workers, or individuals who are active online. When you’re trying to connect and you need to make a request, get to the point quickly and make your request concise and clear. Follow-up messages can help bump you up their inbox, but don’t be disheartened if they don’t come back to you and never pester someone for a response.
An online profile clean-up is also a good starting step for better virtual networking. You know what they say about first impressions lasting a lifetime. Think about what the first thing a potential connection or client will see when they click into your profile and make adjustments based on that. Use an up-to-date headshot and take some time to go through your old content and remove anything that is irrelevant.
Building your online brand can also make virtual networking easier, especially if you can tap into a niche area of your industry and show your expertise. When I started out, I focused on the strategic performance management niche, but later I expanded into artificial intelligence and other future trends. Building your online reputation and brand means a recognisable name appears in the inboxes of your potential connections. So, whether it’s comments on topical issues affecting your current industry or news coming from one you’d like to move into, positioning yourself as a go-to expert can lead potential connections to your page without having to search for them yourself.
My final tip would be to find a balance and to start small. Networking doesn’t need to be a full-time job, but it does take some effort, so it can help to block off some time on your schedule for these activities. If you do choose to engage on social media, you may want to set a limit for how long you can spend on these platforms. It’s also good to remember not to put pressure on yourself to build a presence on all the online platforms at once – it’s okay to focus on one area by doing just a tiny bit more on the platforms you’re already actively using.
Building a network of contacts and a personal brand can seem like yet another thing to add to your to-do list, but the long-term rewards of new opportunities for your career and business far outweigh the short-term effort.