Building a strong network and connections with others is essential to your career and overall health and well-being. And while we think networking needs to be face-to-face at live gatherings, virtual networking is more important now than ever.
Now that many of us are relying on online connections almost exclusively, we need to make sure we are communicating in an effective and impactful way.
And what about virtual networking etiquette? Is that even a thing?
Ohhh yes. And you’re likely doing it wrong.
The following are some of the most common virtual networking mistakes you should always avoid.
1. Sending LinkedIn connection requests and cold emails without prior engagement
Would you ever ask someone on a date before introducing yourself first? Of course not! The same rules apply in the digital world. If you’re blasting out cold connection requests you may be giving the impression that a simple ‘hello’ isn’t worth your time. How off-putting, right?
Give these contacts a reason to reciprocate and always include a custom message when requesting a connection. By letting them know who you are and what or who you have in common, it will open the door for a future conversation. And also make it clear that you are a human and not a robot 😉
The same approach should be applied to emails. Run a quick search to see if you have any mutual connections who can make an introduction on your behalf. If you don’t have any, try to engaging via social media and start a conversation. Then perhaps move it to an email setting to keep the conversation going.
2. Focusing on new contacts and forgetting the network you already have
Don’t take your established connections for granted. We all know that engaging with and selling to an existing audience takes way less time, money and energy as opposed to cold connections. Networking isn’t always about building new relationships. Be sure to take the time to maintain, even expand upon, the relationships you already have. Add value, be helpful and nurture your existing base. Any audience that already knows, likes and trusts you can be primed to move toward full-on brand ambassadorship.
And don’t forget to touch base with these contacts regularly. Reach out to old clients to offer support, schedule a virtual coffee chat with a former colleague to ask about their new role, or simply check in to see how things are going.
3. Overlooking accessibility for virtual events
Always know your audience and be mindful of potential limitations and accessibility issues. Let’s begin with your platform of choice; are you using Google chat, Zoom, Skype, etc? Will your audience have to sign in with a pre-existing account? If so, how can you help them overcome that hurdle? If video is an issue for some participants, is there a call-in feature? Are live captions available for the hearing impaired? Considering the accessibility of a virtual space should always be a top priority. We are trying to bring people together in the midst of a pandemic, not alienate them.
It is also important to establish rules and boundaries when starting an online networking event. Is a video feed mandatory? What is the goal of the meeting? How can you ensure that everyone is feeling seen and heard? Create a game plan and make sure that the boundaries are clear from the very beginning.
4. Not demonstrating reciprocity
A healthy relationship is based on mutual respect and reciprocity.
If you always take…and take and take, your relationship is sure to fizzle. A friend or colleague who only calls when they need something never feels good. If this is your approach to networking, how can you expect these efforts to bear any fruit? Reciprocity, empathy and a deep desire to be helpful is the best and most fulfilling approach to making these connections. If you’re only concerned with what’s in it for you, then you have a very long and lonely networking road ahead of you.
Always give more than you take. End of story.
5. Valuing quality over quantity
Networking isn’t a numbers game. It’s not about collecting names, business cards or online followers. True connection occurs through authenticity and a willingness to meet that person (virtually, of course ;)) wherever they are. Do your homework and take the time to learn about the people you contact. Consider the setting: is meeting in a large group setting helpful or are you introverted and more effective in a one-on-one scenario? Be prepared by creating a series of questions or icebreakers too–these conversation starters can set the tone and keep things moving in an interesting direction.
Building a professional network is about having real-world connections with people who value what you do. High quality connections come from mutual familiarity, trust and respect. If you make yourself accessible and put in the work to be authentic and helpful, your network is sure to lead to great things.