How to network in a digital environment

“Networking is not a singular activity. It is every interaction throughout your day, both online and off. Your e-mail signature line, the article you share on LinkedIn and the person you choose to sit next to at lunch are all part of the mix.” -J. Kelly Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network

Back in the good old days (ie., pre-covid), networking was as simple as having a conversation with a stranger you met at a bar, braai, or work event. Now, with lockdowns, travel restrictions, and social distancing, networking has become a lot more challenging. Gone are the days where you could meet for a coffee, attend a conference, or even attend a casual get-together. Not only are our social lives suffering, but our businesses are too.

But fear not, there are still ways in which you can network for your business. You just need someone like me to tell you what to do and where to look. Without further ado, here are 5 tips on how to network in a digital environment:

1. Don’t try to network sporadically.

To network effectively, you need to have a clear plan and purpose set out. Focus on established goals and objectives. Next, you should work on identifying what kinds of people can help you best achieve these goals. It is no use putting in energy and effort into a connection that will not benefit your business objectives in the long-run.

Ask yourself, where might I find these people? Will you be able to reach them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Will you need to set up a Zoom session or phone call with them? What problems do they specialise in solving and will this be beneficial for your business?

If you ask yourself these questions before going out and initiating any contact, you’ll avoid wasting yours and their time.

2. Visualise social media networking platforms as physical spaces and act accordingly.

LinkedIn is generally thought to be a professional space, whereas Facebook is for socialising with friends and family, Instagram is for pictures and videos, and Twitter is for discussions and giving opinions. Just as you wouldn't share your holiday bikini photos on LinkedIn, you also shouldn't contact people about jobs or business opportunities on Twitter. Know what's appropriate conversation for each social media platform.

In her book, Kelly Honey writes, “The key to long-term social networking success is to always remember there are people using the technology, people like you and me, with messy, complicated distracted lives.”

3. You’ve got to give a little to get a little.

In the digital environment, you almost always have to be the one to take the first step. You are most likely not going to have people beating down your virtual door asking to collaborate.

Try and be as active and engaging on your delegated networking social media platforms. Like and share other professional’s posts (and don’t forget to tag them), continuously share useful industry-related links and resources, give feedback on other pages, and offer referrals. Remember, there are other people out there who are also trying to network and the more active you show you are, the more likely they will want to connect with you.

4. Technology doesn’t bite, use it to your advantage.

One of the greatest advantages of networking online is that you can connect with anyone, anywhere, across the GLOBE. Don't be afraid to contact people who have a large following, they may be looking to network too. When you are proactive in your outreach you will most likely attract like-minded people.

There is also an app called Clubhouse that has recently become a popular way to network digitally. Clubhouse is an invitation-only social media app for iOS and Android. Users can communicate in voice chat rooms that hold groups of thousands of people. It is an audio-only app which hosts live discussions, with opportunities to participate through speaking and listening. You can download Clubhouse from your app store or visit the website.

5. Connect or reconnect with people you already know for new introductions.

There is a widespread misconception that businesses need to network with strangers, this is just not true! Your most valuable networking opportunities lie with people you already know.

Try connecting with friends or colleagues you haven’t spoken to for a while. This can be awkward, I know, but you’ll find that you can help them just as much as they can help you. Is there a family member that works or used to work in your industry? Maybe they have some advice for you? When one virtual door closes, a virtual window opens (see what I did there).

If contacting old colleagues or friends feels like a bullet to the brain, you can also join the Future Females Facebook group. Future Females is a movement to inspire more female entrepreneurs, and better support their success. They provide a platform digitally, physically and emotionally where women can connect, inspire and collaborate with each other, and access the resources they need to succeed. Despite the name, Future Females is open to everyone.

Networking is an essential part of growing any business, this is no secret. If you ask me, not being able to network physically is a blessing in disguise. This way, business owners can extend their network across borders and establish valuable connections that they may not have been able to if not for social media. Besides, who needs human interaction anyway? Kidding! Please don’t become a mushroom.

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