Networking to find new opportunities in business used to look like social hours at trade events and chance meetings in the office. Sometimes being invited to lunch by a colleague led to an introduction that changed the course of a career. But over the last couple of years, in-person engagement has come to a screeching halt.
A public health crisis shuttered our favorite local lunch spots, and everyone decided it was safer to interact from a distance–a virtual distance. The good news is that for those of us who were already working virtually, not much has changed. Although most of us are battling with Zoom fatigue, our remote working style has now become the norm. And that means that our colleagues, clients, and potential networking opportunities are more willing to interact in the virtual world.
So, let’s make the most of it–here are 5 tips to revamp your networking strategy for the virtual world.
1. Build a Digital Presence
We all have to be a little more intentional about how we present ourselves online. When we can’t rely on the things that come naturally to us–like shaking someone’s hand to make an introduction or striking up a casual conversation, we have to put more into building our personal brand and broadcasting it in the virtual world.
All of the popular social media platforms have their purpose–Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. But when it comes to professional networking, this is what LinkedIn was built for. So if you are planning to start on one platform–start there. Choose your channels wisely; you can’t be everywhere all at once. Consistency is important, so start on one channel and grow from there.
2. Create a Networking Plan
In the spirit of being intentional, sit down and write a set of goals for your virtual networking activities. Think about who you want to connect with and why. What is the measurable value that you will gain from making a connection? How can you go about it?
3. Optimize your LinkedIn Profile
The chances are that you didn’t really know what to write in your LinkedIn profile when you set the account up, however many years ago. Now is the time to really put the effort in. Go back and spend some time reworking your answers. It’s the best way to make a great impression and get better visibility online.
What does that mean?
Make sure your contact information is up to date. Get rid of that cell phone number from 10 years ago and the email address you were using when you graduated college.
Make sure it is complete, well-written, grammatically correct, and interesting to read.
Optimize your profile URL to make it easier for others to find you.
Write an attention-grabbing (but clear) headline.
Add links to your best work.
Start publishing your high-quality content on LinkedIn.
Start tracking your LinkedIn profile analytics and use that data to add additional optimization.
4. Rethink your Profile Images
Not everyone needs a professional headshot. Honestly, by today’s standards–when everyone has a professional-quality camera in their pocket, they tend to look a little overplayed. Still, you want to avoid the overly-casual selfie and present a professional image. Here are a few tips:
Stick with high-resolution image quality.
Get a great candid shot of you at work–doing what you do best.
Make sure the photo really looks like you.
Your face should be the focal point, not your kids or dog, or even a beautiful sunset.
Limit confusion by making sure you’re the only one in the photo.
Make sure the photo is taken with plenty of natural light.
5. Develop a Content Strategy for Networking
Essentially you are marketing yourself as a professional, as a personal brand. Successful marketing takes a winning strategy. When it comes to virtual networking, the key is to be intentional, communicate your authenticity, and generally avoid being spammy.
Comment on the content that others in your network–and especially those you want to connect with–are posting. But go a little deep; ticking the like button or commenting ‘agree’ isn’t going to cut it. If you want to inspire a meaningful connection, post meaningful comments. Keep your comments related, thought-provoking or interesting, and directed towards the original post.
You don’t need to comment on 100 posts every day but make sure you are spending about 30 minutes genuinely interacting on your social media platforms. Keep the street going both ways—Post consistent, high-quality content. Share high-quality content from reputable sources and include your own point of view. And re-share the content posted within your network.
The Bottom Line
Poor networking opportunities have been a common complaint of the transition to remote work. But we already had the best tools in place; we just needed to figure out how to use them. While some companies are bringing back face-to-face meetings, more or rethinking their approach to networking in the first place. If social media influencers can connect with thousands or millions of users–surely the business world can use these platforms to network with clients.
Networking in the virtual world requires a strategic, articulated social media presence. You are building a brand and growing your influence with thoughtful engagement and demonstrated expertise. The magic happens when you are consistent and highly visible, and your profile begins to attract the right viewers like a moth to a flame.