How To Make The Most of Networking Online
When we think of business networking, we generally think of attending events face-to-face. If you work remotely from home, are time-poor, live, and work in a remote area why not engage in networking activities online? If you don’t have the confidence to attend live events, then online networking is for you.
Social networking sites are a target-rich environment to expand your network – except it’s over the internet. Facebook groups, LinkedIn, and blogs are perfect for online networking. You can also sign up with other online communities and engage in forums to help get your name out there. If you want to drive your business to grow quicker, consider hiring a business coach specializing in working with entrepreneurs.
Some organizations offer online networking opportunities in addition to face-to-face events as part of a wider package, and others exist purely as an online networking entity. Unlike face-to-face networking events, online networking enables you to expand your geographic boundaries where you can share knowledge and establish contacts with people from all over the world.
Research Networks to Join
Consider if you are looking to make connections with like-minded people, learn something new, or get your name out there and build a reputation. Before joining an online community, conduct the same research as you would for face-to-face groups. Find out who they are, why they exist, who their members are, and what benefits your involvement will bring you. You want to make sure you spend your time online effectively and efficiently and develop networking goals.
After you have done your research, draw up a shortlist of online communities you wish to network or engage in and confine these only to relevant groups to you, your business, and your interests. You may need to develop a professional online profile as some groups will request this before allowing you to join their group. Always be honest about who you are and what you can offer the group, for integrity is the key to success.
Build a Personal Brand
How you represent yourself online forms an impression people have about you for it becomes your personal brand. In your offline life, you also have a personal brand. You are probably conscious of the way you dress, speak, and behave in public. The same goes for online activities. When you reply or comment on another person’s comments, you are also saying something about yourself.
Don’t assume that anything you say and do online can’t be traced back to you, including your profile. Think about what you want to be known for online. Consider your values, goals, skill sets, personality, what you say and do, and even how you look – yes, even online. All of this contributes to your personal brand. Your brand will define who you connect with and who wants to connect with you.
Use a Professional Profile Picture
If someone is not prepared to put their profile picture up on LinkedIn, I always ask myself – “Is this really a person I want to connect with, they don’t seem confident in themselves or I wonder what are they hiding?” You may or may not agree, and I certainly do have connections to people with no photos. Right or wrong, if you don’t put up a profile picture, it may give the impression that you are not very confident about who you are. Others might question your contributions as you hide behind being anonymous. Perception is reality. I appreciate some people who don’t like having their photos taken or feel shy about putting themselves out there. To build a reputation online, it’s important to put a face to a name.
Similarly, some people will put up a profile picture of them out on the town having a good time drinking in a bar. Unless you are in the hospitality business or promote alcohol for a living, what impression does this give? If you want to project yourself as a professional, then a holiday or social photo isn’t appropriate. Equally, if you are in a creative industry, a serious photo in a suit and tie won’t give the right impression. Make sure your photo is consistent with your personal brand.
Some profile pictures have the person looking away from the camera staring at something or someone else. It’s hard for people to connect with you through a photograph when you do not look at the camera. If you are serious about connecting with others, ensure your profile picture is relevant and that you are looking into the camera. If in doubt, invest in a good photographer to take a confident profile picture, and you are proud of what is relevant to your business. Your photo forms part of your personal brand.
You don’t have a second chance to make a first impression.
Consider What Your Email Address Says About you.
Consider what your email address says about you. If you have an email address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, what does this say about you? Generally speaking, a Gmail email address is more accepted as having a positive image over a Hotmail email address. Gmail also has the added advantage of being linked to other Google tools such as Google+.
Connect with Purpose
Why not tell others why you want to connect with them. Perhaps you find them interesting – if so, tell them. You may have read an article that resonated with you. If so – tell them. Using a standard “I would like to connect with you” comes across as canned and insincere. When connecting with others through social media, do it with purpose and look to make a genuine connection.
If you meet someone at a face-to-face networking event, connecting on social media can accelerate the relationship-building process. One of the questions you can ask them is; “Are you on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+? Would you mind if I send you a request to connect?” Alternatively, say to them – “I’d love to connect with you on LinkedIn; I’ll send you an invite.”
LinkedIn is an excellent way to connect with someone as you can view their profile and find out more about them, who they follow, what groups they are in, as well as what discussion groups they participate in, allowing you to interact with them on-line. Don’t assume that just because someone connects with you online, you have permission to pitch your products and services. Be respectful and remember to share, not sell.
Build Trust and Confidence
Give yourself time to build online networks the same as face-to-face networks by getting to know them. Participate in online discussions and comment on a discussion point they have raised. This makes them feel important as everyone loves to know that others read what they wrote. If you read an article or engage in an online discussion and find them interesting, ask them if you can connect directly and start to build a relationship the same way you would face-to-face.
Look to contribute to the conversation to build trust and confidence and be known as a person others want to know. You are not there to sell – balance your posts and comments to ensure you add value. Push too much, push too quickly and you push others away. This is a major reason people hire a business coach, to help them with their confidence, and learn advanced communication and rapport-building skills.
Look for Quality Connections
Many people use social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter and think they don’t need to make face-to-face connections. Social Media is a fantastic tool to connect with others in the virtual world particularly if you conduct your business remotely. Your online connections can be just as valuable as your offline connections.
People can get to know a lot about you through your online presence, but it doesn’t mean that you have a relationship with them. It might mean they follow you – at a distance. Wherever possible, it’s that heart connection that will lead to ultimately making quality connections and getting referrals.
To make the most of building online connections, connect with purpose, and quickly build trust and rapport. If you do, you will build quality relationships that will generate sales leads.
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Networking both online and face-to-face is a valid marketing strategy. It leads to referral business. Unless you build trust and rapport first, you will never build quality connections online.
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