Virtual Networking: For Before, During, and After COVID

By Sherry M. Adler

Networking: to some it’s essential; to others, hearing the term alone is enough to for stress to ensue. Is it a nice to-do? Does it play a significant role in your career? Or does it fall roughly in the middle? Regardless of how you feel about it, networking is an ongoing activity for nearly all business professionals — or at least should be. And while we can argue the merits of networking all day, there’s a facet of networking that is particularly pressing at this time — the logistics of it. As the prolonged pandemic rolls on from month to month, how to network qualifies as a critical factor.

It’s not hard to understand why. In-person business interaction has halted or, at best, decreased thanks to COVID. This has come about for various reasons. Many people are not in the office but rather working from home. What’s more, industry and corporate events and live gatherings have been suspended. That, in turn, limits both formal and informal opportunities to meet, and connect. While so much of this has migrated online, using websites, supplemented by Zoom or other platforms, is not as productive as face-to-face mode.

Or is it?

Make no mistake about it: the virtual option is viable. Although it comes with its unique challenges, this format serves as a credible means of cultivating business connections. Online venues are available and actively used for making contacts. In fact, they have become widely accepted as go-to resources — now and even after COVID.

Gearing Up to Network Online

Networking is networking, both in person and online. Many of the same professional conventions exist. For the virtual format, reliable Internet/Wi-Fi access and meeting apps are a must. Get familiar with Zoom and other online meeting platforms. Have them ready for when you want to have a one-on-one with a new or developing connection.

Also have a plan in place regarding what you wish to get out of networking. Do you want to extend your circle of people with whom to discuss issues relating to your profession? Are you interested in making a job change or finding a freelance assignment(s)? Are you seeking to start a business and interest potential clients in it or join with others to get it off the ground? Think through your motives and what you intend to get out of it. Then network.

Here are a number of online resources to expand your business relationships:

Lean in on LinkedIn

“Welcome to your professional community” is the greeting you receive when you hop onto LinkedIn. For networking, LinkedIn is in a category of its own. This online business galaxy is all about networking. The brainchild of Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn derived from his desire to “try to help humanity evolve.” How did he envision that? Through making connections.

If you have any doubts, here are several recent statistics about LinkedIn to sway you otherwise. People from 200 countries and regions around the world use this site. The number of registered members is 722 million. Of that total, more than 174 million are in the U.S. alone. This community spans more than 50 million companies and, as of this writing, in excess of 14 million open jobs. On that theme, LinkedIn claims that “three people are hired every minute” on this space. And in terms of growth, during FY21, LinkedIn boasts a 55% year-over-year increase in conversations among connections.

Start by creating a compelling profile. If you have one already, cultivate it. Update — add, delete, and stoke it. Invite people to connect with you to form a sizable professional network. Then, invite more because that generates a robust content feed that comes directly to you on the site. Read the items you receive. Comment on them, share, and re-share. Post content and videos. Send messages to members of your network. Meet with them online. Stay active. The more you do, the more you may receive. Everything you need is at your fingertips. The system prompts you every step of the way. Use it to your advantage. According to Forbes: “LinkedIn is, far and away, the most advantageous social networking tool available to job seekers and business professionals today.”

These are a few more ways to enhance your visibility and networking potential on LinkedIn:

  • Join Groups – search for those in your industry or interests; apply for membership; then check activities, share information, network; look for new groups; start your own group!
  • Post – encounter something of interest? Post it, not only to your connections, but also to others by using a series of hashtags of your own or that LinkedIn suggests
  • Poll – engage your network by gathering their opinions about an issue; click the “post” icon, followed by the “create a poll” option; this is a great way to deepen relationships
  • Attend Events advertised on the site, which are held virtually at this time – post your status to your network, comment about the proceedings, connect with attendees
  • Publish – develop original content or an infographic; network with those who “like” or comment on it or send to those you want to get to know or know better
  • Take Courses sponsored by LinkedIn — learn and, in the process, seek networking opportunities by posting information and snippets to your connections
  • Read LinkedIn News on your homepage — comment on content; share information with connections as a lead-in to setting up a networking meeting

LinkedIn is a treasure trove of networking delights. These are just some of avenues for deploying this mega system to your advantage. Use LinkedIn during the health crisis and afterwards too to advance your networking goals. It works!

Get Down to Business on Social Media

“Friending” on Facebook? That barely scratches the surface of what savvy members can do on social media platforms to grow their networking base. All users have to do to get started is shift or expand priorities; that is, move from friending to building professional networks. The initial mechanics parallel those of LinkedIn, e.g., create a profile and adorn your space with content of interest. Then apply initiative and ingenuity to develop a strategy and infrastructure to track down the best business connections and arrange to get to know them.

Is it worth it to push the basic bounds of these tools for business purposes? The numbers again make the case. Facebook is the largest of these giant online communities. As of the end of September 2020, active monthly users on Facebook topped 2.74 billion. What’s more, this social media powerhouse makes it easy to reach out to members via the WhatsApp, where users exchange about 100 billion messages each day.

Focusing on Facebook, how do you move beyond the world of friends and family to business? “How to use Facebook as a professional networking tool” offers practical tips. It suggests setting up separate silos. Facebook helps in this regard by letting up compile lists for each major grouping. Both this first post and another on networking on Facebook walk you through the steps. A few words of caution:

  • Ensure your profile, including photo(s) and content, are geared for a business audience; that may mean changing existing pieces intended for friends and family and keeping this principle in mind going forward
  • Check your privacy settings as an alternative and adjunct to your professional view
  • Choose industry and networking groups wisely and comport yourself as a businessperson
  • Consider coordinating and linking your Facebook and other social media accounts with your LinkedIn and ensure all information corresponds

As for other social media, use Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for networking too. Establish an appropriate business presence on each and then create and increase your circle. For tips, see:

Meet Up through MeetUp

Founded in 2002, MeetUp is best described as an online collection of groups. Operating worldwide, MeetUp serves as a platform for in-person and virtual events. Organizers form groups along the lines of their interests and then sponsor activities. Members join these groups and register to attend functions. There are groups of all kinds — as many and even more than you can imagine. How large is the MeetUp community? It’s a mighty big number. Make that 225,000 groups across 180 countries, as of 2017.

How many of these pertain to networking and to your business goals? There’s only one way to know for sure. Join MeetUp — it’s free — to register to participate. Then head over to the search bar to get started. Insert keywords and geographic areas and watch the screen fill up with choices. Although this is not a dedicated networking site, you may be surprised at how many options there are to take part in groups and meet with potential contacts, all online now. It’s worth checking out and signing up for what may turn out to be productive virtual gatherings.

Go Exclusive: Join Assorted Networking Communities

There are several websites that exist for the express purpose of enabling people to network online. Two in this category are:

Ryze
If you prefer a resource that is all about networking and only about networking, Ryze could be your “it” spot. Where MeetUp is not dedicated to networking yet huge, Ryze is the opposite. It is an online professional networking website. It’s also a lot smaller — estimated 1 million participants. Established in 2001, Ryze provides a venue for members to locate business connections. It’s free to join and use but does not have an app.

Shapr
Are you familiar with swiping? Similar to Tinder, Shapr uses this function, but for the purpose of accepting or rejecting new business contacts. An app-based networking platform, it enables users to connect with other members. It could be along the lines of a profession, industry, interests, or location. It’s easy to use. After completing your profile and outlining your criteria, the system starts the process for you. It selects a sampling of members within this sizable space that matches your parameters. Then it’s up to you to review the options and swipe. After that first foray, you take control and start searching and networking on your own.

Network Like a Rockstar?

Before the pandemic, Rockstar Connect held lively in-person networking meetings across the country. These business events occurred monthly at a wide range of venues. That was then. Now, all events are virtual and hosted on their mobile platform. These online gatherings are free to the public, although the group welcomes financial contributions. Regardless of whether you kick in funds or not, you may register for and attend events.

Rockstar Connection currently is sponsoring a series it calls “The Three Martini Lunch.” A nationally broadcast event, it takes the form of a two-hour webinar. This weekly offering features a slate of panelists who share knowledge and wisdom. The e-Invitations describe the proceedings as follows: “Learn from our top-notch networkers, coaches, and connections as they engage in a discussion that is all about networking, small businesses, real estate, referrals, and helping others.” Find out more and register here.

For now and going forward….

This is but a brief rundown of the ways you can keep building business relationships and stay safe during the health crisis. You don’t have to leave home to use these tools and may choose to stay with them over time. You will enhance your business networking range — and might even have fun in the process. Happy connecting!


About the author.
You name it, she covers it. That’s the can-do attitude Sherry M. Adler brings to the craft of writing. A polished marketing and communications professional, she has a passion for learning and the world at large. She uses it plus the power of words to inform and energize stakeholders of all kinds. And to show how all of this can make a difference, she calls her business WriteResults NY, LLC.