Networking online has been an integral part of job hunting and business relationships for well over a decade. Professionals have always seen the value of building virtual relationships, and the start of platforms like LinkedIn have helped make this a reality. With 85% of jobs being filled through networking connections, it's no secret that it pays to make contacts online.
In the wake of the pandemic, being a pro at networking online is no longer an option — it's a necessity. There's no escaping the reality that the hidden job market still exists, and it's a game-changer when someone can help you get your foot in the door.
For people who are disappointed about missing in-person networking opportunities, remember the unique advantages of networking online. Instead of feeling discouraged by canceled conferences or missed coffee meet-ups, consider how the world's greatest networking events are more accessible than ever before. We outlined seven of our recommendations for networking online effectively in the virtual business world.
Tip #1: Tune into virtual conferences
Large gatherings are still out of the question, but you can still make the most of your favorite conferences digitally. Although you won't be able to benefit from in-person connections, it's just as simple to engage with speakers and fellow attendees through the conference's platform or app. For example, highly anticipated conferences in the tech space, like Collision, have been reimagined as virtual experiences that offer just as many opportunities for engagement.
Some of the perks of virtual conferences include:
- You don't have to worry about transportation, so you can use the opportunity to attend more conferences, regardless of their geographic location.
- Many digital conferences are allowing free or inexpensive registration.
- There's a level playing field for post-conference networking. There's no pressure for in-person lunches or follow-up coffee dates because everyone is networking online. With clever communication strategies, you have just as much of a chance of getting noticed by an industry leader as anyone else.
Tip #2: Attend digital roundtable or panel discussions
Industry leaders who host digital roundtables or panels allow attendees to benefit from their expertise in a more intimate setting than a conference with thousands of people tuning in. Since the group is smaller and the moderator often opens the floor to discussion, do your research in advance so you're prepped with all the context you need. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Take note of the introductions. If everyone is going around virtually introducing themselves, take note of what they say and touch on the same points when you introduce yourself.
- Plan something unique to bring to the table. Contribute your perspective, learning experience or skill that's relevant to the conversation. Be careful not to waste time comparing your contribution to others'.
- Email the panel moderator and contributors afterward. Be sure to underscore their specific talking points that resonated with you. This is the best way to be memorable after the fact and foster authentic connections.
Tip #3: Participate in free webinars
Regardless of your industry or stage of your career, participating in webinars is always worth it. You get the opportunity to network with fellow participants and industry leaders like you would at a conference, but usually in a smaller group. You can easily find webinars online by Google searching "upcoming webinars in [industry/niche]." Here are some tips to make the most of them:
- Introduce yourself in the chat channel. Participate in the corresponding webinar chat conversation.
- Submit questions for the Q&A. There is almost always a Q&A portion of the webinar, which presents a great opportunity to stand out.
- Share a takeaway on social media. Sharing what you learned from or appreciated about the webinar on LinkedIn or Twitter keeps the conversation going and allows for networking.
- Send a thank-you message. Be sure to send a thoughtful email to the speaker(s) and connect with them on LinkedIn immediately after the webinar.
Tip #4: Sign up for an online workshop or course
Most workshops or courses involve a cost, but they're a great way to both build skills and connect with like-minded peers in your field. For example, there are usually Slack communities where fellow students or graduates of a program can connect and share ideas. When you sign up for a workshop, coding bootcamp or workshop, you'll automatically join a cohort of people who are serious about learning and self-improvement.
Tip #5: Leverage all professional networking platforms
Even if LinkedIn is your go-to networking resource, it's important to diversify which platforms you use. Chances are that there are social networks within your industry that you're overlooking, like professional development forums. For example, there are LinkedIn platform alternatives like Jobcase, Opportunity and Sumry.
Plus, there are tons of industry-specific online communities to choose between. Although it may require extra effort, leveraging your networking opportunities beyond LinkedIn will undoubtedly pay off.
Tip #6: Join professional associations online
Although there is usually a membership fee, the immediate networking opportunities with like-minded people and leaders in your field make the cost worth it. In a digital format, professional associations can offer access to exclusive online resources and notify you first about virtual conferences. Industry-specific organizations like the National Society of Professional Engineers and The Association for Women in Communications host virtual conferences and webinars for members only.
Tip #7: Regularly check in with professional connections
Even though you can't grab an impromptu coffee anymore, it doesn't mean you shouldn't schedule check-ins with your contacts. Plan video calls with key contacts, mentors, and mentees to keep up a face-to-face connection. It's great to have an agenda to make the most of a conversation, but be sure to touch base without the pretense of exchanging favors every time. After all, the secret to successfully networking online is genuinely caring about your contacts.
There's no question that we're networking online more than ever before while working remotely. Check out the graphic below to learn how to capitalize on the new wave of virtual networking.
No matter how many applications you submit with a perfectly qualified and optimized resume, nothing replaces a personal recommendation to help you get noticed. Remember that even if you're just starting your career, there is a ton of potential for forging meaningful relationships through networking. In a fast-paced world where industry norms are rapidly changing, there's never been a better time to stay up to date on the latest networking practices.