How to network in the digital age

Laveta Brigham

How to network online 1. Do your homework So, you’ve found a good workshop that’s being held next week. What next? “Do your preparation before the event,” Squires recommends, “so, know who’s going to be there and have some objectives of what you want to get out of it.” For […]

How to network online

1. Do your homework

So, you’ve found a good workshop that’s being held next week. What next? “Do your preparation before the event,” Squires recommends, “so, know who’s going to be there and have some objectives of what you want to get out of it.”

For most networking events, you should get sent a guest list in advance. “I would suggest if the event isn’t doing that then it isn’t a very good event,” Squires tells me, “and your time might be better spent going to something else.”

Once you have had a look at the guest list, Squires recommends connecting with the future attendees on LinkedIn – it gives you the chance to get to know each other in advance and, in the event that they can no longer make the session, you’ve still made a connection. 

2. Don’t sugar-coat the truth

The experts are unanimous that you need to be honest in order to network successfully. “It is important to build trust with any audience,” says Ian Nicholas, global managing director at REED. “If you are struggling with a challenge, then don’t pretend that you are not. Indeed, why not post the challenge and ask others to respond with their helpful advice?”

At de Klerk’s events they have the Chatham House Rule (where participants are free to use information received, but the identity or affiliation of the source may not be revealed), which encourages members to be open. This means people can identify others who are in the same boat, share similar experiences and offer advice. 

3. Show some personality

All work and no play makes you a dull networker. “To have a good business relationship you also need to have a good personal relationship – otherwise it is purely transactional,” Nicholas explains. 

“Therefore, take an interest in the person’s personal life, as this helps build that element of trust… You have to allow your natural personality to come through, otherwise you may get viewed as a bit wooden, and you run the risk of getting forgotten.”

One way of highlighting your personality is by posting videos to LinkedIn, a method that Nicholas says is becoming increasingly popular. He saw one recently of a young woman who had just started a job at a car showroom and asked if her connections wanted to come down. At the time Nicholas viewed it, the video already had 7,000 views. 

“I think there’s a temptation when you’re scrolling through LinkedIn, that if you see a video you just press [it],” he says. You could use a video to advertise your business or, effectively, to advertise yourself if you’re looking for a job. “It makes you stand out from the rest,” he says. Keep it short and snappy though – 60 to 90 seconds. 

4. Be useful to others

All relationships are built on a little give and take, so be sure you are doing your best to help others, too. 

“At the event, be interested and interesting,” Squires advises. She advocates the “two ears and one mouth principle” of listening to what people say before speaking. 

“Another way to make yourself seen or heard is to offer something,” de Klerk says, whether this is a useful connection or just your time. Don’t necessarily expect anything in return, she adds, but lending a helping hand is “the best way to connect with other people.” 

An easy way to be useful could be to comment on and share a post they shared on LinkedIn, Nicholas says. “If you’re networking with people online and they post an article, go and comment on it – ‘This is a great article; I found it really useful’. Maybe share it with your community because that individual will reciprocate. The more you do that and try and help them, the more they’re likely to help you” 

5. Stay for the Q&A

If you have opted for a larger event – perhaps a guest speaker is giving a talk – do not fear: you can still make connections. “The way to be seen and heard is in the questions,” de Klerk says, referring to the Q&A section at the end of a talk. She recommends “staying on to ask questions at the end, and also earmarking people you’d like to connect with afterwards”. 

During the Q&A is a great time to post your details in the chat forum on Zoom, or whichever video provider you’re using. “Don’t hesitate to post in the chats: ‘I’d love to connect with as many of you as possible after this event – here’s my email address’ or post your LinkedIn profile,” de Klerk advises. “You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to do that.”

Alternatively, you could jot down someone’s name and look for them on LinkedIn afterwards. Now more than ever, “people are far more open to making connections,” de Klerk says, so be sure to put yourself out there.  

6. Keep in touch

The networking event itself is just a springboard for your new professional relationships. As such, it is essential that you book time in after the event for follow-up, according to Squires.

“You’ll meet people at the event and if you don’t put time in your diary to follow up with those people, to send them an email saying ‘nice to have met you’, or to do your LinkedIn connection request or to have a further meeting about how you can work with each other, then there was no point in going to the networking event in the first place.”

It’s not just about meeting new people, either; online networking means you can get back in touch with older contacts, too. “Go through all of your contacts on LinkedIn,” de Klerk advises. “What opportunities are you sitting on that you may not have been aware of before?” 

There is no harm in messaging someone and asking for a 10-minute coffee call or for them to join your new mastermind group, de Klerk adds. “The worst that could happen is they say no.”


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