Thursday, 18 June 2020
As the coronavirus lockdown continues, online networking has become more important than ever. We explore how to make it work for you.
Networking is a huge part of building your personal brand. But with face-to-face events currently out of the question, it has been necessary to forge new connections online. Remote networking covers a host of different activities, from building followers on social media to attending live webinars and virtual events, and from joining themed Facebook groups to posting articles on LinkedIn. Here are 10 tips from business owners who have successfully built strong online networks.
“People won’t necessarily have the software you are using already downloaded,” says Orlaith Brogan, otherwise known as life and business coach Orlaith.B and founder of The Mumpreneur Revolution, which holds child-friendly networking and business events. “It is always worth sending attendees clear, step-by-step instructions on how to access the event and what to do if they experience any errors. When attending a remote event where you are unfamiliar with the software, try it out before attending.”
“Networking remotely can be a chore if you’re talking to the same people about the same stuff all the time – try mixing it up by looking outside of your immediate network,” says entrepreneur Helen Lewis, who runs multiple businesses including Literally PR. “There are so many online events happening at the moment it’s easy to find something that tickles your fancy. Branch out and try getting involved in something a bit different, so you don’t get stuck in the same-old, same-old trap.”
This function of videoconferencing service Zoom enables you to break away from the main meeting to have a more focused discussion with a smaller subgroup of people. “You can have in-depth conversations, much like you would at a networking event. For me, this has been the standout innovation in the last few weeks,” says Carl Reader, business expert and author of The Startup Coach.
“Every morning I do at least two ‘Lives’ across my different businesses on Facebook,” says Lewis. “I cover a different topic each week and let people know what I’ll be discussing. I’m finding the interaction increasing, and people are also watching after the Live, as it can fit in with their own schedules. The number of views we’ve had has skyrocketed compared to pre-lockdown.”
“View online conduct as if a newspaper was reporting on it,” says Reader. “If your activity was to be shared publicly, would you be happy for the world to see it?” He also recommends taking care to ensure people don’t misunderstand your tone or meaning. “Text on a screen can be interpreted in different ways, and nuances such as body language and tone of voice can’t be conveyed,” he says. “If you have something to say, make sure that the words match both what you want to say and what you would like the recipient to receive.”
“The reality is that ‘bad’ followers might as well be purchased followers from unscrupulous providers,” says Reader. “If they’re not in your target market, there is little point in having them, and they will hurt your engagement levels, which in turn will limit your reach on social media platforms.”
Naomi Aharony, managing director of Reboot Online Marketing, agrees. “Sieve through the cheesy sales connections and be selective about who you choose to connect with, otherwise you may be bombarded with sales pitches, which are distracting and annoying,” she says. “As your connections grow, you can afford to be more choosy.”
“Once you have connected with people and built up a network, people may want to often hear what you have to say; then you can build up a conversation and debate on pertinent issues,” says Dave Chaplin, founder of compliance solution IR35 Shield and ContractorCalculator, which provides free advice and information to over 200,000 freelancers and contractors each month.
“Share and like other people’s content if it’s good,” he adds. “Networking is all about relationships, and it’s important to build a rapport with your followers and respect and share their views too. Don’t hijack other people’s posts by posting promotional links, or blatantly promoting your own services and products. That’s poor form.”
“Set aside time to post on a regular basis; LinkedIn is not something you can drop and then pick up a month later,” says Aharony. “You should try and post regularly to keep engagement consistent.”
“Whether you’re attending or creating a remote networking event, it’s worth considering exactly what you want to get out of it,” says Brogan.
“Aim to build relationships and ask about other businesses as much as possible before sharing your own – effective relationships take time to develop. You can do this by expressing a genuine interest in the person you are talking to and first considering how you can help them before expecting help.”
“Sometimes the quick off-the-cuff posts get much more traction than the more time-consuming, thought-out ones,” says Aharony.
Chaplin agrees. “You never really know how things will go,” he says. “I spent 10 minutes once on a Sunday just sharing a story about how I got started in computers and thanking my dad for buying me a Commodore 64. For some reason, it went viral and remains the most viewed post I ever wrote.”