When we think of business networking, we generally think of attending events face-to-face. If you are time poor, live and work in a remote area or generally don’t feel you have the communication skills to attend live networking events, why not engage in networking activities online?
Social networking sites are a target rich environment to expand your business network – except it’s over the internet. Facebook groups, LinkedIn and blogs are particularly good for online networking. You can also sign up with other online communities and engage in forums to help get your name out there.
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 simply 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.
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 groups that are relevant 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 as integrity is the key.
Build a personal brand
How you represent yourself online forms an impression people have about you. It’s 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 defines 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 or 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 do appreciate some people 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 holiday or social photos aren’t appropriate. Equally, if you are in a creative industry, a serious photo in a suit and tie won’t give the right impression either. 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 though a photograph when you are not looking 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 profile picture that is confident and you are proud of that is relevant to the business you are in. Your photo is your 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 being 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 simply say to them – “I’d love to connect with you on LinkedIn, I’ll send you an invite.”
LinkedIn is a particularly good 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 giving you the opportunity to interact with them on-line. Don’t make the assumption that just because someone connects with you online that you have given them permission to pitch 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 build trust and confidence and be known as a person others want to know. Don’t look to sell – balance your posts to ensure you add value. Push too much and you push others away.
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 simply follow you – at a distance. Wherever possible, it’s that heart connection that will lead to ultimately making quality connections and getting referrals.
On a final note
To make the most of building online connections, connect with purpose and build trust and rapport. If you do, you will quickly build quality relationships that will generates leads.
In A Nutshell
- Research networks or groups to join that are aligned with your goals
- Build a personal brand and ensure everything you do online is congruent with your brand
- Use a professional profile photo that supports your brand
- Use a professional email address
- Connect with purpose
- Build trust and make a contribution
- Look to build quality connections