Remote work has become more prevalent in recent years, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that it became a necessity for an overwhelming number of people. As a result, virtual networking – building professional connections and relationships via digital channels – has become more important than ever before.
While remote work may seem isolating, it doesn’t have to be. With the right strategies and tools, you can network effectively no matter where you are. The following guide will help you navigate the world of virtual networking and establish meaningful connections despite distance.
Section 1: Setting the stage for successful virtual networking
Establish clear goals and objectives
Setting specific goals is crucial in any professional effort, and virtual networking is no different. Determine what you hope to achieve by building a network and how it fits into your broader career vision. Your goals may include expanding your professional connections, obtaining new opportunities, or enhancing your knowledge of specific industries or topics.
By identifying your objectives, you can tailor your virtual networking approach to achieve them. For example, if you’re looking to expand your network within a particular industry, you can prioritize connecting with people in that field.
Build your online presence
Your online presence is your first impression in the virtual world. Therefore, it’s essential that it reflects your professional brand and accurately conveys your skills, interests, and personality.
Make sure your online presence is up-to-date and consistent across all channels, including social media profiles, website, and online portfolio. Your profiles should highlight your most significant professional achievements, skills, and interests.
Additionally, remember that creating a profile does not mean “set it and forget it.” Keep your online presence updated frequently with relevant changes and updates.
Utilize technology and tools
Technology has made it simpler than ever to network virtually. Video conferencing software such as Zoom or Skype, social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as professional networking websites, are a few examples of available tools.
It’s essential to understand which platforms will be most useful based on your networking goals. If you’re hoping to join a particular industry network, define which social media sites or communities are most prominent in that industry.
Work on your personal branding
Personal branding is the process of creating and maintaining a distinctive image of yourself. This image should indicate your unique skill set, values, and story, which can be showcased in your online presence, marketing materials, and while networking with others. Therefore, work on building a personal brand that accurately portrays who you are and what you have to offer.
Highlighting your strengths, values, and interests is crucial while developing your brand. When enhancing your online presence, consider how you can incorporate your personal brand into your online presence, making sure it comes across and works well with the platform.
Identify and refine your elevator pitch
In any networking context, whether virtual or in-person, it’s essential to have a clear and concise elevator pitch that highlights your value proposition. This pitch should introduce who you are, what you do, and what you can offer to potential connections, and be around 30 seconds long.
Take the time to perfect your elevator pitch, so you’re confident in delivering it to new connections.
Section 2: Approaching virtual networking strategically
Be intentional in your outreach
It’s essential to have a purpose when reaching out to potential connections. Randomly connecting without a clear plan or strategy often results in wasted time and effort.
Before reaching out to someone, take the time to research who they are, what they do, and how they can help you in achieving your goals. When connecting with them, personalize your communication and highlight specific reasons for reaching out.
Remember, networking relationships need to be based on mutual benefits. Therefore, consider what value you can bring to the other person and frame your outreach accordingly.
Attend virtual events and webinars
Virtual events and webinars offer opportunities to network with people interested in the same topics you are. They can be a great addition to your virtual networking strategies, allowing you to connect with individuals who share your interests and skills.
To make the most of these events, join the conversation by actively participating in webinars, asking questions and engaging with the other attendees on social media.
The point isn’t just to attend but also to network with other attendees. Try to connect with speakers or other attendees to continue the conversation once the event is over.
Participate in virtual communities
There are a variety of online communities and forums dedicated to specific industries or skill sets. Participating in these communities presents a great opportunity to connect with qualified individuals who share your interests and can provide support and advice.
As you participate in these communities or forums, let your voice be heard, share your insights and connect with those whose opinion resonates with you. Don’t get carried away with self-promotion as that can put people off.
Build relationships over time
Building strong relationships isn’t a one-time action; it’s a process that takes time in the virtual world. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results from your networking efforts.
Build your network naturally over time. Set up regular check-ins to keep in touch with the connections you’ve made, engage with them on different platforms, and maintain your relationship.
If the relationship isn’t going in the expected direction, do not give up. Consistency pays.
Be open and curious
One of the great benefits of virtual networking is that there’s no restriction when it comes to connecting with people worldwide. Embrace this opportunity by being open and curious about new perspectives and ideas. Seek out conversations and connections with individuals who have different backgrounds, skills, and experiences than your own.
By being open and curious, you expand your knowledgebase, empathy, and in turn, become more valuable to your connections while diversifying your connections and information intake.
Section 3: Best practices for virtual networking success
Be authentic and genuine
Networking is about building real relationships with other professionals. The most effective way of achieving that is to be authentic and genuine while communicating. Showcase your personality, expertise, and unique values while giving your connections a taste of who you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not or present a false image of yourself, as people are becoming savvier than ever and can tell if you aren’t truthful.
Practice active listening
Active listening is key in any networking activity. At times, we’re so focused on ourselves that we hardly have time to understand the perspective of the other person on the other end. When networking, forgo that time-limit and focus on understanding the person’s perspective by asking relevant questions related to their job, industry, or experiences.
By doing so, you can gain the necessary insight to determine how you can add value to their life, ask for advice or connect professionally.
Follow-up and stay engaged
Follow-up is key in maintaining a successful virtual networking relationship. Send a thank-you note after meeting someone new or attending a virtual event, and make sure to schedule regular check-ins to stay in touch.
Share valuable resources or insights with your connections to provide ongoing value, or engage with them on social media or forums in the industry. Remember that building relationships over time starts with maintaining progress consistently, ensuring that your presence is always present and valuable.
Give more than you take
Effective networking relies on building mutually beneficial relationships, so it’s important to give more than you take. When networking, look for opportunities where you can give value by sharing your expertise, offering to connect them with someone in your network or providing feedback on their work.
By giving more rather than taking, you establish yourself as a valuable connection to keep looking forward to engaging with.
Virtual networking requires adaptation to different strategies, skillsets, and tools. As technology and platforms evolved, so should you. You need to be open to new technologies and ideas and adjust your approach accordingly based on your goals and objectives.
Try adopting new platforms and strategies until you find the ones that fit into your networking style.
Section 4: Best practices for virtual networking success
Make use of video calls
Virtual networking can often feel impersonal, but video calling is an excellent opportunity to connect with others and provide a sense of face-to-face interaction. When you have a video call, make sure that you dress appropriately, use appropriate lighting, and have a clutter-free background.
Be mindful that the person on the other end may be in a different timezone, so keep that in mind when scheduling a call.
Collaborate with others
Working with others provides an excellent opportunity to develop long-lasting relationships. Look for ways to collaborate on projects with those in your network.
By working together, you can develop stronger connections, showcase your expertise, and create valuable work. Additionally, working with others may provide new opportunities or insights into different skills, techniques or interests and industries that you may not have been exposed to before.
Volunteer with Professional Organizations
Working with select professional organizations is a great way to enhance your skills while giving back to your community. It’s also an ideal way to meet other professionals in your industry and expand your network.
Participate in events, take up volunteering opportunities, and be proactive in engaging with others in the organization. By doing so, you establish value and showcase your drive to excel in your profession, which can lead to more opportunities.
Attend online conferences
Online conferences are an excellent opportunity to network with other professionals globally. They are also a perfect way to stay up to date on what’s new in your industry.
When attending conferences, interact with other attendees either through social media or chat apps, exchange your thoughts on the topics, and network with fellow attendees by signing up for virtual booths or exhibition halls that might be available. Making connections through peer networking sessions can also be great ways to expand your network.
Become a thought leader
By sharing your expertise and insights on a particular industry topic, you can become a thought leader. Sharing blog articles, creating webinars or offering to guest blog on industry specific websites can be ways to showcase your expertise and establish yourself as an expert in your field.
In doing so, you attract others looking for your expertise while making leads, getting recognition from industry professionals, and establishing yourself as someone who understands the industry trends and challenges.
Better networking is achievable with the right strategies and effort. Networking is a process that requires time, effort, and commitment to creating and maintaining the kind of relationships that can help you achieve your professional goals.
By setting clear objectives, utilizing technology, and approaching networking strategically, you can establish and maintain successful relationships in the virtual world.
Maintain authenticity, practice active listening, stay engaged, and always strive to give more than you take. By following these best practices, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a virtual networking pro.
Ultimately, have faith in the process, believe in yourself, and be persistent as networking takes time, energy and commitment.