Around the world, events are cancelled, restaurants closed and governments are advising everyone to stay home. Where possible, employers are asking employees to work remotely. No matter how you look at it, life as we know it is changing and slowing down with fewer places to go, and whilst people may not be engaging publicly at the moment, social media and internet usage has been steadily increasing as people turn to online platforms for entertainment, conversation and, yes, for networking.
If you’re one of those outgoing types who’s used to growing your professional network face-to-face, at the kinds of events and gatherings now called off for the duration, you can still maintain your connections—and cultivate new ones—at a safe distance.
Not only is online networking an effective way of staying in touch with the outside world, by strengthening professional ties and seeking out new ones now, could pay dividends after the pandemic has receded into history.
Here are some tips to keep you relevant, connected, and ready to go once the shutdown lifts.
1. Refresh your personal brand
Now is a good moment to make sure your profile is up-to-date, ask contacts for recommendations, join groups you’re interested in, create content and comment on other people’s posts. Now that your online rapport is your key way of connecting with people, make sure it’s on point. And the end goal is to be as visible as you can.
2. Know the difference between networking and socialising
There are plenty of people who are excellent at networking that do not consider themselves the “Life of the Party”. Likewise, there are many people who are proficient in socialising yet they are absolutely dreadful at networking.
The difference – when you are socializing there is no end result, with networking there is an intention. Intention to exchange ideas, make introductions, or just reaching out to make a connection. You are certainly asking for something — or planting the seed — but you are also willing to give something back in return.
3. Reconnect with contacts you haven’t heard from in a while
Communicate with contacts you haven’t recently kept in touch with. Ask how they’re faring, and let them know you’d like to help, if you can. It’s not a sales call, it’s a friendly gesture that keeps you in touch – even if they’re too swamped with work and/or worry to reply right now, they will remember it later.
4. Approach new contacts
Think creatively about new contacts you could add to your current network – but, make sure they’re the right ones. The networking mistake most people make is gravitating toward connecting to what’s comfortable for us, validating our own views, and confirming what we already know. Work on building a broad network of knowledgeable connections, both inside and outside your field and industry. You may be surprised by where you next lead may originate from.
5. Be Flexible
If you try to contact someone on Thursday, don’t be terribly offended if they don’t get back to you until the following week. If you need to end a networking interaction because your child needs help with some school work, don’t be afraid to end the call. This is a new experience for everyone and people want and need to see your humanity. Carl W. Buehner’s famous quote “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” is more than just a pleasant proverb. The essential insight is that a skilled communicator must be aware of the emotional valence of his or her words.
Amid the general doom and gloom of social distancing and at home isolation, this is time more than ever that you should be building and rebuilding your network. Making new connections and reconnections. Be brave. Be bold. And embrace your online self.