7 tips for successful online networking

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The meaningful connections and conversations you have as a small business owner help you build a network of people who may become customers, employees (or contractors), investors, or sources of new opportunities. Those new connections and conversations build trust and respect, helping you reach the right people and generate new prospects for yourself and your business.

Finding new contacts and nurturing professional relationships through networking can help accomplish these crucial goals. Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its limitations, face-to-face meetings at conferences, business card exchanges, and in-person networking events aren’t possible. That leaves only online networking.

Online networking is more than simply having a LinkedIn profile. Check out these seven tips if you’re looking for a new job, trying to find new contacts, or simply want to feel more connected during this solitary time.

1. Look for new online networking platforms 

Go beyond the traditional social media platforms like LinkedIn and explore other informal networking channels. Meetup traditionally promoted in-person gatherings but is now touting online opportunities. There are many groups focused on remote workers, specific industries and business segments, and groups that focus on social good and other interests. 

When it’s possible to again meet face to face, you may actually be able to network in person with the people you connect to through these interest groups on social networking sites such as Meetup, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Job seekers and recruiters are expanding their search beyond LinkedIn profiles, so this is another reason to consider alternative platforms.

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2. Diversify your existing network through outreach into new interests

You might not have had the time to expand your network before we were all forced to stay home. If you have more time now, network online to diversify into new areas of interest. 

This is particularly important if you’re considering growing your business into new territories or applications. Leverage online networking to gain more visibility in local or global segments of your market. You can do this by joining interest groups on social media platforms or asking a trusted mentor to introduce you to people in those areas.

Don’t worry if at first it feels awkward to reach out to these potential new contacts. Look for common ground to start building the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship. Even if you appear to be incompatible, your new contacts may provide access to further growth opportunities.

3. Leverage available tools and technology for online networking 

An array of technology and tools are now available to help professionals who want to connect online, start conversations, and make connections. These tools include video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and GoToMeeting. 

You can host a webinar or event to generate new contact opportunities. Hosting follow-up one-on-one or group chats can solidify those contacts into valuable professional relationships. 

Jotform is a prime example of software that can further your networking efforts. You can use its features and customize forms to easily schedule meetings with potential connections and facilitate the exchange of personal information for future interactions.

4. Keep conversations going 

Don’t start a dialogue with those in your network and then disappear. It’s important to follow up on any information you’ve shared and reply to all responses from people in your network. Look for comments on your social media posts or tweets to see how you can develop a further conversation.

5. Get involved in forums 

Participating in topical forums is another way to add to your network. You can illustrate your thought leadership and credibility on sites like Quora. In return, you may attract like-minded individuals for your network. You can gain valuable insights, advice, and resources by interacting with others. 

6. Take your time 

Growing your network with the right contacts and nurturing those relationships is an ongoing process, not something that happens in days or weeks. Building a durable network online requires more time and patience than networking face to face.

Don’t rush these relationships. Instead of immediately asking for what you want, wait to bring up that job or funding opportunity until you’ve gotten to know and trust each other. Balance your interests with the interest you show in your potential network connection. Taking small steps shows that you respect their time.

7. Start sooner rather than later

Don’t wait until you have an immediate need for that job, funding, talent, or connection. It’s more effective to start cultivating those online contacts well before then. 

Without some pressing purpose, it will be much easier to focus on building a relationship than getting something out of it. Start now, while you have the time and motivation to actively seek out, diversify, and leverage what’s available.

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked for TV, newspapers, radio, and Internet companies for 25 years. He’s written for Inc.com, Fast Company, NBC, Entrepreneur, USA Today, and Business Insider, among others.

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