Over the past couple of years, businesses have had to improve their online networking skills and massively adapt and be more versatile than they ever have been. In-person gatherings aren’t a regular occurrence and there’s less opportunity for spontaneous business discussions at industry events, parties or networking sessions. This has seen the rise in online networking, even more use of LinkedIn and virtual coffee chats being a totally regular occurrence.
Face-to-face networking and online networking can be a challenge for the best of us. It can feel forced, cringey and even awkward at times. However, there are huge benefits to gain from real-life and online networking. It can bring genuine and valuable exposure to your brand, it can help enhance your personal brand and it can help you build meaningful relationships with industry peers and prospective clients. If you are in the b2b space it’s also really important that you’re ‘part of the conversation’ and that you’re carefully and authentically showcasing your expertise and portraying yourself and your brand as a leader in the sector.
As we look forward to 2022 and the unpredictable landscape that we face, how can we improve our online networking skills? We still need to meet new people, build lasting relationships and demonstrate our expertise with the right audiences. Let us share our top tips for improving and enhancing your online networking skills.
1. Find your people!
There are so many different ways to pursue online networking now. For example, there are Facebook and LinkedIn groups to discuss in a forum style way, or local city meet-ups on Zoom organised by various organisations, plus there are many traditional business networking groups that have now switched to online sessions. We’ve also seen many exciting emerging business communities that are doing different formats like panel sessions, lunch & learns, Q&A slots and podcasts.
The world of online networking is vast but don’t let this daunt you. We suggest you choose 2-3 ways to network in your own original way and stick to these. A scatter-gun approach won’t do you any favours and it’ll leave you feeling tired and unsatisfied with the outcomes. Stick to a few favourite ways and do them really well.
If you haven’t explored the idea of online networking yet, then we recommend you consider the following points when trying to ‘find your people’…
Find the right format and channel that works for you.
Maybe you prefer real-time conversations on Zoom, maybe you prefer commenting on posts and in groups on LinkedIn or maybe you prefer a more formal setting in an established networking setting (check this handy business networking group guide from Startups)…?
Always do what feels comfortable.
We can’t stress this enough! Your online networking style won’t be genuine and likeable if you’re forcing yourself to do something that feels way too out of your comfort zone. Maybe being a panellist on an industry webinar isn’t your vibe – could you pass that over to a colleague? Or perhaps you prefer to have a readily-made script for a Q&A session with close colleagues? Alternatively, you may prefer to create a short video and post it into a specific industry LinkedIn group? Whatever you feel best at – do it and do lots of it!
Collaborate with local businesses or similar businesses.
This is a great way to start building up your network in a comfortable and familiar area. Linking up with similar businesses is a great way to learn from others and benefit from their customer base. For example, we work with other marketing agencies so that if we are at max capacity we don’t let our customers down and we can refer them to someone we trust and value highly.
We also work with many designers, photographers and video producers who support us with our client work. Often they have clients that need support with their marketing but this isn’t a service that they can provide so they pass them onto us. We now have an established team of creative partners and we use each other’s services regularly and refer each other often. It’s a great mini-community and it feels like everyone wins which is great!
Find a community that works for you.
When we first started we did a lot of experimenting with online networking groups to see what fitted. And, we encourage you to do this! It’s okay to try something once and then politely say thank you and move on. Some online networking groups that we attended were quite formal and prescriptive in style and the structure and order felt too serious and intimidating for us. We were drawn to groups that felt relaxed and chatty and had a ‘drop in vibe’. Different groups work for different people and for different purposes. It’s great that there are so many different options to suit all styles and all personality types.
Early on we found Enterprise Nation and we never looked back. They are a community of like-minded businesses and they have fantastic content and events. These can be quick lunch & learn sessions, local business networking sessions and more educational type events too. We think their approach is very down-to-earth but professional too. We highly recommend!
2. Stay focused
You may want to try everything and put yourself out there across many different channels, platforms and groups. However, we encourage you to stay focused! You won’t do a good job if you are in too many places and it’ll feel exhausting too.
We recommend you think carefully about why you’re doing this. What’s the purpose of your online networking? For example, would you like to meet like-minded business owners? Maybe you want to build your personal brand? Think about what your goals are and build a simple but effective plan around this. For example, Saltoria’s networking plan is about brand awareness and building new relationships. So, we try our best to be on expert panels (for example Enterprise Nation’s ‘Unempowering your Imposter Syndrome’ event earlier this year) and showcase our expertise/experience where possible. It’s also important that everything you do has a key purpose and we even encourage you to set mini-goals per event (e.g. arrange a virtual coffee with at least one attendee).
3. Be authentic.
This is a phrase we see thrown around the internet a lot nowadays. However, it’s an extremely valid notion, especially in the online networking world. Some online networking sessions can be quite ‘salesy’ for example and no one wants to feel like they’ve just bumped into a door-to-door salesman on Zoom. We encourage you to be genuine, sincere and talk to people like you would in real life.
It’s important to build rapport as soon as you can. This means listening carefully, asking questions and learning as much as you can about the other person. What do you have in common? How can you collaborate? In what way can you support each other? It might be that you can benefit from working together or they could be a brand-new client for you. Either way, this needs to be a two-way street and you need to both get value from this relationship. Be yourself as much as you can – we promise it’ll work!
4. Be useful.
This may seem obvious but often when we’re in nervous situations we can forget ourselves and default to sales mode. Always try your best to be as useful as possible in every conversation you have. Can you support this person or collaborate in a mutually beneficial way? Can you share resources or refer them to others? Think about how you can make their life easier. By being genuinely helpful you’ll be memorable and it’ll showcase your genuine and practical style. People are often too busy for conversations solely made up of small talk, so try your best to bring something valuable to every conversation you have. It’s all about meaningful conversations and genuine connections!
Share useful content, tips and insights as much as you can. This might be on social media groups, industry forums or even in the chat section of a Zoom event. Always make sure your content is relevant to the conversation and the audience. Show that you’ve listened and you care about people’s needs. This will help them remember you fondly and come back to you for paid advice or support in the future. First impressions count – so make sure you’re useful rather than just friendly (both are good though!).
5. Create genuine connections.
As we’ve already mentioned throughout this article, it’s essential to be genuine and authentic when you’re online networking. We encourage you to talk to people when you know you can bring value to the relationship. It’s not cool or clever to just build up your LinkedIn follower base to look popular and in demand. Do you need to have these extra strangers as part of your network? Would you speak to them in real life at a business event? Do you know enough about them to introduce them to others?
Everyone needs to do what works for them – but for us, we’d prefer to have a small group of well-known, like-minded and familiar connections so that we can all benefit from being connected. We want to know what our connections are up to, how we can support each other and learn from each other. Genuine connections mean we get the best out of each other and we create trustful and passionate long-lasting relationships.
6. Be great on LinkedIn!
Here at Saltoria, we are obsessed with the power of LinkedIn for small business success. It is a great place to meet new peers, new clients and new colleagues. It has transformed into a powerful and amazing online networking platform during the pandemic and we can only see this growing and growing. Our recent article titled ‘LinkedIn for small businesses: here’s why it will help you succeed’ showcases exactly why we think it’s so useful (plus, it includes lots of tips!). It really is a great way to showcase your expertise, be part of relevant conversations and find the right people to help grow your business.
Our top 3 tips for 2022 are:
Only send bespoke messages.
We have met many people over the last year or so through LinkedIn and it wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t sent them a targeted inbox message. You must be clear about why you’re connecting, how they can benefit from talking to you and why your service/product/expertise is relevant to them. Be as specific as you can as there’s a lot of copy & paste style messages out there. Be tailored, honest and upfront always!
Share relevant content.
Don’t just push your service/product and rave about how great/useful/cool it is. Sure, it is brilliant, but you need to be more than just your service or product! You need to showcase your industry expertise, you need to share top tips, you need to share resources from others and you need to be adding to the conversation. Make sure everything you share is relevant, useful and meaningful. Sales messages are okay, but be sure to share a variety of other content frequently.
We encourage you to be as active as you can on LinkedIn! Comment on posts, ask questions, be curious and share links. Maybe join groups and share content, ideas and opinions too. Or create polls to listen to your network and then adapt your plans accordingly. Again, don’t just push content to tick that task off your list. Get involved in conversations/threads that are happening right now, provide useful responses/content and create meaningful conversations. You want to feel like you’re at a party having a really fun and passionate discussion. Be welcoming, kind and inspiring. Like we’re sure you are in real life!
There you go! We hope this has given you some inspiration for online networking in 2022. It’s a tricky time and we know that online networking isn’t for everyone. But, there are some invaluable benefits if you stay focused, positive and proactive. You can do this!
We are here for you!
We understand that it can be hard to create a networking strategy or to build a plan for your personal or business brand. However, it’s important to improve your online reputation and online networking is a great way to do this. Whether that’s by being a key speaker on a Zoom panel, or by hosting your own webinar or by joining a new business networking event – there are many ways for you to succeed.
If you need reassurance, a bit of brainstorming or some general networking support, then why not get in touch with us today? Book your free consultation and start thinking about your next amazing campaign!