The business world is increasingly moving online and so is networking. However, successful online networking is not about followers and “likes” but about connecting in a meaningful way.
There are several rules for succeeding at online networking. Before embarking on any networking activities, clarify in your mind why you are seeking to connect with people and keep these objectives at the forefront of your activities.
Then, you need to establish mutually beneficial relationships with people by making it crystal clear what you can provide and how you can benefit your contacts. When you reach out to someone, encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions. Get your contacts talking and you will be able to learn what they need.
Finally, don’t be stingy with referrals. Don’t hesitate to connect your contacts with businesspeople that could help them. Go above and beyond to thank someone for their help or to mentor and support others. Your contacts won’t forget it.
So what are the golden rules for achieving all of the above?
Rule #1: It’s about building relationships not making sales
Engage positively with your contacts, have a conversation, and discuss what your business is about. Leave the sales pitch at home and instead let them know who you are and what you do.
Also, to encourage a healthy back and forth, share useful information and offer to support your contacts’ businesses by, for instance, inviting them to post a guest blog on your website or interviewing them for a vlog.
Rule # 2: Go above and beyond
Exceed people’s expectations. Get your contacts’ details, refer them to relevant experts and businesses, review products and provide constructive feedback and support independent enterprises.
Moreover, think about going offline. Send a card rather than an email and make a phone call rather than sending a text.Why not make an appointment to share a coffee to discuss how you can help each other? Nine out of ten of your peers never pick up the phone so be the one who does.
Rule #3: Understand your objectives
Why have you chosen to network online? When you understand your objectives you will be better able to achieve them. Why not write down your objectives so when you are dedicating time to your social media presence you will be able to stay on track. Also, think about putting aside a set amount of time for networking (the online environment can be very distracting!).
An accountability partner may also be beneficial. Why not join a mastermind group where you can review your objectives together weekly?
Rule #4: Have a real conversation
Closed-ended questions sound the death knell for conversations. If your question can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” it is the wrong question. Encourage discussion by asking open-ended questions that invite people to talk about themselves. In this way, you will be able to uncover what your contacts are seeking and how you can help. Perhaps you can be most helpful by putting them in touch with another business or specialist?
Rule #5: Stay engaged
Online interactions don’t benefit from body language and facial expressions but you can still show that you are engaged. Before you respond to a message, think carefully about what has been said. Look for clues about what your contact wants and needs and even how they are feeling right now.
Taking your professional networking activities online has a range of benefits but it is full of pitfalls for the uninitiated and must be approached with care.
Before you begin, you must make a plan. Then, you need to implement it judiciously. Keep your goals in mind when reaching out to contacts and think about relationships before sales. To cultivate positive relationships, you will need to reflect carefully on what your contacts say to you, ask questions that invite discussions and go above and beyond to show your contacts the value of connecting with you.