Networking is an essential part of work and life – and it has never been more important. When you meet new people, it widens your circle. That in turn brings you closer to the resources, opportunities, prospects, and clients you need to enhance your career and/or build your business.
The purpose of networking is typically for professional versus personal reasons. Fortunately, even when in-person networking is not an option, there are plenty of opportunities to network online. After all, it is social networking.
The Smart Approach
It’s easy to get carried away, spending several hours a day chit-chatting with people in a Facebook group or via Twitter – particularly during the coronavirus quarantine we are living through. But does that really benefit you or your business?
To make the most of your networking time, you need to understand your why. What is your purpose for networking? What do you hope to gain from it? Who do you hope to meet?
- Perhaps you’re looking to add a few new top-notch consulting clients to your book of business.
- Or, you want to identify key referral partners for your real estate business.
- Or, you’re putting together an online summit and want to connect with the best experts.
When you connect your digital networking activities to why you want to expand your network, you can better research and identify the most ideal networking platforms and communities to help you reach those goals.
Best Places to Network
Start with LinkedIn: LinkedIn has 675 million monthly users. Since it’s one of the most renowned professional communities online, you know you will be networking with other similar professionals.
- To start, look for groups to join and engage in. These can be related to your industry, location, or niche. There are alumni groups, groups for professional organizations, marketing groups, and more.
- Next, identify key contacts to follow. Watch who posts what. Reply, answer questions, and contribute to their conversations in a natural way.
- After you have established some rapport in the group, send a contact request and/or private message when appropriate.
People who do ‘bulk adding’ of contacts with the same copy and paste message can usually be spotted a mile off. That approach isn’t effective and could be considered spam. Instead, take a moment to personalize your note and make the intent of your outreach clear.
Explore Facebook Groups. Over the last couple years, Facebook has been giving priority to groups.
- Facebook’s focus on groups is good news; there’s a group for every imaginable interest. The tricky part is finding the right groups.
- Don’t go crazy joining tons of groups. Instead, take time to properly seek out and vet. Ask your friends and peers which groups they love and why. What works for one person may not work for another, but getting recommendations is an excellent start.
Join groups that help you with your professional and client development, as well as those designed for interaction. For example, Debra Eckerling’s Write On Online Group, which focuses on goal-setting and productivity for writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, has a different conversation-starter thread each day. She starts Monday with a “share your networking goals” post and rounds out the week with “Toot Your Horn” Thursday and “Foto” Friday.
- Consider starting your own Facebook group. You can establish your leadership while highlighting your business. Come up with a catchy title that explains what the group is, as well as who it’s for. What is the value? How does it help others?
Be sure to connect the group to your Facebook page. For example, my Social Scoop Group is run through my Mari Smith Facebook Business Page. It’s aimed toward leaders of all types. I regularly share social media trends, news, tips, special offers, and more. It’s also a forum to encourage questions and peer support.
Find Other Niche Communities. When looking for online networking opportunities, look beyond the traditional social networks. Here is a list of virtual communities with more than a million users.
There are online networks that serve as a hub or platform for mini networks. A few standouts:
- Ning is an online platform for people and organizations who want to create custom social networks. There’s a directory and featured groups on the home page, making it easy to find groups that match your interests.
- If you are looking to host a group, independent of Facebook and LinkedIn, check out Mighty Networks, which offers free and premium plans.
The No. 1 Rule of Networking
Approach your online networking in a similar way to how you network in real life. Basically, mind your manners.
It’s amazing how many people online bulldoze into a conversation or new relationship without regard to building rapport. If you were at an in-person networking function, you’d meet someone, make eye contact, smile, shake hands, and ask the other person a little about themselves. You behave with genuine actions and interest. And if you have an agenda - such as to promote or sell something - people can see it and often back away.
If you have an agenda, when networking online, it shows immediately. While some “power networkers” might think their intent isn’t that obvious, it’s usually very apparent they’re trying to get something from you. Don’t be that person! It just does not work.
When networking online, focus on building genuine relationships. Find ways to add value to the conversations you have online.
See how you can help others. That genuine intent comes back to you ten-fold. One of my favorite quotes comes from Zig Zigler: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
The basic concept: Givers Gain. This is illustrated beautifully in my friend Bob Burg’s parable The Go-Giver. Bob is a leader who shares how a subtle shift in focus is not only a more uplifting and fulfilling way of conducting business, but the most financially profitable way, as well.
Show empathy when appropriate. In my own book, The New Relationship Marketing (Wiley, 2011), I dedicated a chapter on the new business skills everyone needs. These are predominantly soft skills. Empathy and deep listening are at the top of my list.
The ‘new’ part in my title refers to the digital aspect. It’s more important than ever to hone these soft skills when connecting - and communicating - online.
Another aspect very much in alignment with empathy and other soft skills is habit No. 5 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleⓇ by Stephen R. Covey: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In online network terms, this translates to being curious and asking about the other person as you begin to build a dialog. Don’t be all about you, and don’t be pushing your own agenda.
Go the extra mile. if you’ve found a really strong contact you want to reach out to - and connect with - first find out more about them. Search a bit on Google and other social channels. Then just ‘tuck’ away some of the tidbits you discover. Don’t use that as a means to show off how much you know to the other person, as they could easily get creeped out that you’ve been basically stalking them online! However, finding points of connection to subtly add to the conversation (perhaps you have a friend in common or have similar hobbies) will help to develop rapport. This will serve you well in the future.
Keep your ego in check. Before ever hitting that publish/share/send button, I say to myself, “What is my deepest intent?”. Checking my underlying motivation helps to ensure that any communication comes from a place of generosity and humility.
A Final Thought
The secret to networking is community. Whether you facilitate your own online hub, take part in someone else’s, or both, approach networking from the standpoint of being genuine and helping others.
When you do that, you meet new people, make connections, and develop lasting relationships. And then everybody wins. Your network is truly directly connected to your net worth.
About Mari Smith
Often referred to as “the Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Facebook marketing and social media. She is a Forbes’ Top Social Media Power Influencer, author of The New Relationship Marketing and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day. Forbes recently described Mari as, “… the preeminent Facebook expert. Even Facebook asks for her help.” She is a recognized Facebook Partner; Facebook headhunted and hired Mari to lead the Boost Your Business series of live events across the US. Mari is an in-demand speaker, and travels the world to keynote and train at major events.
Her digital marketing agency provides professional speaking, training and consulting services on Facebook and Instagram marketing best practices for Fortune 500 companies, brands, SMBs and direct sales organizations. Mari is also an expert webinar and live video broadcast host, and she serves as Brand Ambassador for numerous leading global companies.
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