Expand Your Online Connections With Virtual Networking

There are so many ways to make new connections online — social media interactions have opened new virtual networking opportunities for everyone. Expanding your online network of professional contacts will open up more opportunities for success, help grow your business or brand, and increase your chance of getting noticed by influencers.

In recent months, these online connections have become even more important. COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of in-person conferences and summits and many women are feeling disconnected and unsupported during what has become an incredibly difficult time.

Knowing how to make the most of your online connections is important. Of course, maintaining connections offline is important, too, whether it’s checking in with a phone call or meeting in person when that becomes an option again. Face-to-face connections are often more familiar and more firmly established, but while you may not have as strong a history with your online connections, these relationships are no less valuable, and nurturing them is just as important.

Six ways to make the most of virtual networking opportunities:

1. It’s who you know and who they know

From mutual friends on Facebook to mutual connections on LinkedIn, social networks make it easy to see who knows who. Need an introduction to somebody who might be able to help you take the next step in your career or business? Ask your connection for an introduction. You can learn a lot about a potential new company or investor by browsing profiles of people who have worked or interacted with those companies in the past.

2. Participate in the conversation

Take advantage of groups in your areas of interest or local geography. LinkedIn and Facebook groups, Clubhouse rooms, and Fishbowl bowls allow you to be in the company of people in your industry or with whom you share a common interest. Participate in these groups: post an article, comment on a conversation. Over time, people will come to know and respect you as an authority. Check out the IAW website, where members can regularly engage in conversation on message boards and participate in chat opportunities during our virtual Regional Networking Events and Local Chapter Connects eChapter events.

3. Showcase yourself

Keep your profile up to date and professional in appearance (profile photos count!). Show the world what you have done and what you are capable of. You never know when your profile will show up in somebody’s search and this is your chance to make a great first impression. Most importantly, don’t be shy. Bragging about yourself doesn’t come naturally for some, but when you do something cool, be sure to let your network know about it. 

4. Be professional

When you meet someone in person, a firm handshake, an elevator pitch, and a business card go a long way in establishing your professionalism. Obviously, you can’t physically shake someone’s hand or hand them a business card online, but that doesn’t mean you can’t convey that same professionalism. During virtual events, turn your video on and interact with the speaker and other guests. Be sure to provide your contact information in the chatbox for easy follow-up (and save the chatbox so that you can connect with others who also shared their contact information). When messaging someone, be sure your words are concise and businesslike (no LOLs, TTYLs, or smiley faces), and, yes, grammar still counts … don’t forget to use spell-check!

5. Keep in touch

Be sure to periodically check in with the connections you make online. A simple comment on their status or sharing an interesting piece of news with them can help keep you fresh in their minds. For deeper connections, reach out to your contacts at least four times a year to help develop the relationship. Good opportunities to reach out to your contacts are during the holidays, the New Year, their birthday, or when they’ve shared career news such as a promotion or job change. Your relationships should be mutually beneficial. Don’t reach out to your contact only when you want something from them. Think about how you can provide value to the relationship as well. 

Want to see an example of this in action? Check out Michelle Burke, who regularly tags others in her LinkedIn posts when the content is relevant and she’s looking for additional insights. 

6. Be helpful

Always be willing to take that extra step and offer your help, whether it’s sharing your expertise, contacting someone in your network on behalf of your new connection, or simply offering some sage advice. These are all great ways to deepen a connection, and they help leave the door open for future interactions that are mutually beneficial.

Making the most of your online connections and nurturing these important relationships will ensure your virtual network continues to grow and thrive.

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