The old networking playbook included getting some business cards printed, preparing an elevator pitch, and attending industry conferences and mixers. But as ever more in-person events are canceled due to coronavirus, people the world over are shifting to doing most of their professional networking online.
Here are four tips to help you improve your virtual networking game—and some recommended tools for maximum success.
1. Find thought leaders and influencers
Let’s say you want to find a job as an interior designer. The first step is to follow thought leaders and influencers in the industry. You can find them by searching “interior design” on Twitter and Instagram. One way to make your search more strategic, however, is to use a tool like Followerwonk. Search “interior design” + “blogger” or “writer,” and you will get a list of people who write about interior design, ranked by their number of followers.
See who they follow to grow your network. Through the people you follow, you are likely to learn about important industry news, online events, webinars, and webcasts. Sign up and participate when interesting ones come along.
2. Start listening
Once you’ve found the right people to follow, start listening to what they have to say and gathering the latest and greatest news and insights in your industry. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Quora, Yelp, Meetup, and Listly. Download their podcasts. Put their names in Talkwalker and Newsle so you get emailed when they appear in the news. Subscribe to their newsletters and YouTube channels, and subscribe to their content on Patreon.
3. Build awareness
Now that you’re aware of them, you can start making them aware of you. The key to successful networking is not to go around begging people for favors and being a nuisance, but to create value for them, too. Retweet their content, +1 their posts, share their content on Facebook, comment (insightfully) on their publications and videos, and include their insights in your content (with appropriate attribution, tags, and hashtags).
Only then—once you know a little bit about them and have a clue about what’s going on in the industry, and once you’ve created some value for them through retweets and shares and engagement—should you reach out. Friending them on Facebook will likely come across as creepy because it is more of a personal network. But reaching out on LinkedIn and other professional network platforms is totally appropriate. Lead with a sentence that starts with something like “I loved your article last week about…” And then let them know what you want (e.g., “I’ve written this … and would appreciate your advice” or “I’d appreciate the chance to interview you about your career for my blog” or “I’m starting out in the industry and would appreciate your mentorship. Are you available for a quick virtual coffee meeting?”
If you don’t hear back, send a quick follow-up message about a week later. Chances are the person you’re contacting is busy and misses messages from time-to-time due to the high volume of incoming requests. Don’t harass the person, though. Stalker is not the impression you want to leave. After two or three follow-ups, it’s time to move on to the next person on your list. But keep the door open by continuing steps 1, 2, and 3. The first secret of success is showing up—even when the room is a Zoom room.