Online Networking during COVID-19

Someone smart once said, “The opposite of networking is not working”. Networking is an unspoken rule of success in business. Online networking brings downs barriers, transcending race, gender, ethnicity, country and industry. It brings people together, linking us to build rapport and develop personal relationships. Networking has always been about creating personable relationships, shaking hands, swapping business cards and going to different functions. Online networking is about creating more flexibility with time-sensitive people while providing a platform that reduces the fear of face-to-face engagement, or the unknown and having a potential stress headache.

The core foundation of networking is sincerity, having a relentless desire to help people and make a difference, paying attention and being different. Persistence wins most battles, so stand out from the crowd, and remain unforgettable. Gaining credibility through your actions will make you a great networker. Small gestures are the ones often remembered, such as delivering a handwritten card, sending an email as a touchpoint, or picking up the telephone to ask how they are and how you can help. The gold comes when you have done your homework and understand the person and their business. It is understanding how you can help them solve a problem and to become a referral partner to support their growth. So just how do you build your online network?

Join a reputable networking company. When you are committing time to get to know, like, and trust people, you want to make sure the organisation you are investing in aligns to your values. Pay attention. Are the online events merely a social gathering, or are they adding value, providing referral opportunities, education, brand awareness and accountability? Make sure you have a clear objective as to why you want to join that community or networking company. It is equally vital to select no more than 2 or 3 groups where you can be sure of your continued commitment. If you spread yourself too thinly, you do not have an opportunity to connect, add value and become a genuinely effective networker. And, if you are with a networking company that has more than a hundred members, you need to make a concerted effort to get to know people. It does not help to be in multiple organisations if you are in the periphery.

Engage and be vocal by taking the time to follow a person’s company and like and comment on posts to show your interest. If you write articles and blogs and their business aligns to your industry, offer to write a piece about them as it will demonstrate sincerity and a desire to want to see others succeed and grow. Covid-19 has shut down events and large social gatherings, but it does not mean that our voices cannot be heard through online engagement. When you sign up, demonstrate your commitment to a networking group by getting involved, sponsoring an event, engaging in training, and participating in social media posts and podcasts. Most importantly, show up for online events scheduled on Zoom. If you don’t turn up, people do not have an opportunity to learn about you and remember you. After you have attended a Zoom event, ask for a list of the participants then follow this up individually with a LinkedIn connection and email. If there was a person of interest, arrange a mutually convenient date and time to reconnect to learn more about them and their business.

Propose products and services of a local business you have gotten to know, like and trust. The more we give and promote other organisations, the more it creates the law of reciprocity. Generosity and kindness are the real ingredients for any relationship to develop and grow. The purpose is to identify the individual’s pain point and what you can do to resolve it. Like going to a doctor, you want to understand the problem, receive a diagnosis and then a resolution.

In times of unrest and external environmental pressures of a virus we have no control over, we have the power to support local business through online engagement and networking. With so many different platforms, business development needs to be planned and incorporate an effective online strategy.

Social Media has created a window of opportunity to showcase our business, services, and promotions, but it requires understanding and purpose. Social media can be overwhelming, so select platforms that are relevant to your business. Whatever platforms you use, make sure you are posting regularly with content that is adding value to the reader. It is no good trying to engage in every social platform and posting once a month. If you are going to focus on only promoting your business, you are creating the perception of ‘me’, and ‘I’ and your audience will soon click away and scroll down from your post. Like Tinder, you will be swiped left and unfollowed! Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter are all geared toward a specific audience and style of post. Post articles, tips, experiences and showcase other businesses aligned to your industry to gain credibility.

Endorsing a business makes a difference because our engagement has changed, and we rely on reviews to make informed decisions, engage with a service, go to a restaurant, or purchase a product. If you have used a service or product, write a positive review on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even put a 60-second video together shouting out about your experience. If you feel the service has been exceptional, think about endorsing the business or offering to link your business to theirs, which will strengthen your relationship. Collaborative working can prove critical to building traffic to a website and can provide both companies with more exposure.

Furthermore, what does lead generation mean to you? Put simply, this is when someone shows an interest in our company’s product or services. Without leads, our business would cease to exist. The purpose of networking is to generate leads to stimulate organisational growth and sustainability. Lead generation happens after you have attracted an audience of people that are now ready to convert into qualified sales leads.

Online networking allows you to accelerate your growth, to scale and be connected. Humans are not meant to hibernate and nor are our businesses, even with the presence of Covid-19. We are social creatures and staying connected should take priority to sustain not only business growth but our mental health.

People buy from people. Networking is about cultivating relationships, and online networking takes time. It takes time to nurture relationships; they do not happen on their own. Like a good crop, they require commitment and dedication to reap the benefits of the produce the field has produced. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on being generous and demonstrate your ability to listen to others, communicate effectively, be interested, honest, kind, generous and creative. Online networking requires touchpoints to create long-term relationships. In times of a global pandemic, it is more important now than ever to stay connected online.

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