As more people have to work remote in the current global climate, our usual ways of connecting in business have rapidly changed. But while life may not be the same for a while, we can keep networking and connecting even if we can’t be in the same room. In fact, we’ve already been networking remotely. LinkedIn, for instance, has 675 million users monthly, and keeps rising. The Eight app also boasts millions of users around the world, and people use it everyday to connect.
Now it’s time to iterate and master online/remote networking; strengthen your current connections and add new ones. Key ways to do this are:
- attend live streams and digital conferences
- use video to maintain a human connection
- share your professional expertise as a thought leader
In fact, you’ve already been networking at a distance
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic made us have to adjust on the fly. Even as some places get up and running, remote work is here to stay. That may be a very good thing, but networkers much also adapt. Business professionals need to focus more than ever on maintaining (and building) their network to keep themselves active and relevant.
Networking as we know it usually involves speaking face-to-face, shaking hands, and following-up as you work to do business or somehow help one another. It’s also how we find new jobs, with up to 80% of jobs never posted.
We have to supplement that first stage of being in the same air space. We can do this, in unique ways.
Virtual networking isn’t a new concept. Through the use of video, virtual happy hours, live streams and free workshops, professionals have been growing their network without leaving the safety of their home.
Those who offer before they ask, thrive in times of adversity, and this trait is good in networking in general; good in most relationships. By offering your skillset to your network little or nothing, you’ll increase your following, build trust, and tap into the research-backed benefits of reciprocity. When people are given something, they are much more likely to give back.
Networking by live stream
One of the first indications of the pandemic’s business implications for global businesspeople was conferences being rescheduled or cancelled.
Live streaming and videoconferencing became the immediate new normal. One study found live streaming accounted for two-thirds of all internet traffic a few years back, and was expected to jump to 82% by 2020. It’s probably jumped a lot more than that. One in five Facebook videos are live and are watched 3x longer than pre-recorded videos.
As it became clearer the pandemic wasn’t going to resolve in a matter of days or weeks, major tech companies and brands such as Adobe, Dell, Google Cloud, Microsoft Build, and Salesforce moved their yearly conferences online. Software already exists to make this possible, and it’s rapidly improving.
Zoom, the popular conferencing app allows for up to 50 “breakout rooms,” meaning participants participate in smaller group discussions. Microsoft offers digital events such as Microsoft Build, where developers connect with an international community, learn from technical sessions and trouble-shoot with Microsoft engineers. You can sign up for updates here. Adobe held over 100 summit breakouts, allowing for more intimate connection between customers.
Without the average $325/day travel costs, live stream conferences are cheaper to attend and less of a scheduling nightmare. Use that surplus time and attend more of them to build your network. Eventbrite lists over 100 virtual conferences you can register for today – some are even free.
Before the event, browse through the list of speakers on the event’s website. Write down those you want to connect with and pay close attention to their talk during the livestream. Google them and look them up on LinkedIn, as you would/should at a live networking event. Take notes and follow up with them after, whether that’s during an “Open Forum” in the livestream or via LinkedIn afterwards.
Follow-up is imperative in in-person networking, and already takes place by text, email, SNS, or phone. Those aspects don’t change. Video can add an even more personal twist.
Remote networking by video
Video messages (via email or social media) are 40% more likely to be opened and 37% more likely to be clicked. One case study found using personal videos in emails increased the response rate by 3x more than traditional text-only emails.
If you want to connect further with someone you met at a virtual conference, follow up with a video intro of yourself. If you’ve lost touch with old contacts or are losing traction on sales deals impacted by the remote climate, add a personal touch and send a video update.
You can use your phone camera or a free app like Vidyard to record and send your videos through email, text, or any professional networking platform.
With loneliness on the rise, creating times and spaces for human interaction is vital. You can use video-conferencing apps (such as Zoom) to maintain the social aspects of your network. For example: If your pre-COVID life involved grabbing drinks with your professional network, transition to a virtual happy hour. Schedule an hour, attach a Zoom link and invite your network. Tell them the invite’s open-ended: anyone is welcome to attend and e-meet new connections.
If you’d rather join a professional happy hour instead of hosting one, research thought leaders in your industry and see if they’re hosting. Top sales thought leaders like Morgan J. Ingram and James Bawden host weekly virtual happy hours and share the link with their professional network of 40K+ followers.
Speaking of thought leaders…
Remote networking through thought leadership
Millions of people could use some help right now. Do you have anything you can offer? For example, if you’re an HR professional, consider offering free resume workshops. If you’re a sales professional, run a livecast on how to drive higher close rates. If you’re a marketing guru, offer “office hours” with marketing tips and tricks.
First, determine what you can offer. Second, find a medium to offer it. Zoom offers a free web-conferencing tool with unlimited 1-to-1 meetings, and 40 minutes for group calls with maximum 100 participants. If you want to live stream, Facebook Live is free, easy to use, and has 2.45 billion monthly active users.
Advertise your offering through your social and professional networks: Share your free workshop on Facebook, LinkedIn, your colleagues, your friends and family. Create a free poster using Canva’s easy-to-use templates to showcase how you’re helping your network, because LinkedIn posts with images get twice as many comments as text posts.
If you’re posting on Facebook, make sure to set the post status to “Public”. When someone “Likes” your post, their network will see it too. LinkedIn’s algorithm is designed for viral sharing across networks: by sharing your offering, you’ll find new connections, and set the stage for becoming a thought leader.
Research by LinkedIn and Edelman shows thought leadership convinced 60% of decision-makers to buy a product or service they weren’t previously considering. Executives will pay close attention: 47% said they shared their contact information after reading thought leadership, and more than 60% said they were willing to pay a premium for products and services led by thought leadership.
Your offering might be free (or discounted) for now, but you can bill clients after you build a following or use your thought leadership status to drive more sales for your organization.
If you can’t think of an offering or can’t commit that much time, become your network’s resource center. For example, if you know of a company still hiring, share the link on your social and professional platforms. If you’re concerned for your industry, spend 10 minutes a day looking for job postings to build a spreadsheet of available opportunities and send it to your connections with the note, “If this helps anyone you know.”
Google Sheets is free to use and you can set the privacy level to “View-Only”. Your updates will be seen (but not edited) in real-time by anyone with the link.
You really can network when socially distancing, even across oceans
The uncertainty we’re living in means we need to take a supportive approach to networking. By doing so, we’ll be known as those who stood up to lead in times of uncertainty, put yourself out there and offered guidance without expecting anything in return. That’s the reputation you want when you network. That reputation rises above any crisis. It’s humanity in action, and is what networking needs right now.