10 Tips to Successfully Network Online
There’s an old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Making connections has never been more important in this age of an ever-expanding workforce and rising career changes. According to a 2020 survey, 73% of survey participants reported that they had been hired in the past as a result of someone they know making an introduction or a connection. A Forbes survey in 2022 found that 85% of job vacancies are filled via networking.
The idea of networking might conjure images of conferences, alumni events, and handshakes. To be sure, face-to-face networking is still an important part of making career connections.
But in a post-pandemic world where so much of our lives have shifted into online or remote working relationships, platforms for online professional networking have seen an incredible expansion. What are the best ways to “meet” new people and build those connections in this new world of virtual interaction?
This blog will look at 10 tips to boost your effectiveness and successfully network online.
What is online networking?
As impactful as online networking can be, many people are not sure how it works, let alone how to do it effectively and truly get value from it. At its core, however, networking online isn't much different than in-person networking. It’s about being prepared, staying diligent, and putting in the work to expand your connections.
In short, online networking is simply utilizing the available resources and platforms on the internet to make professional connections that help boost your career or business ambitions.
By now, most people will know about using LinkedIn to make connections or using Twitter or Facebook to promote themselves online. Simply being on these platforms might be a good start, however, they are merely the tip of the iceberg. Online networking encompasses a variety of tools and steps, like virtual networking events, online industry groups, proactively posting content, and many more.
What are the benefits of online networking?
The benefits of online networking remain essentially the same as in-person networking: it grants you access to the expertise of peers, enriches your knowledge base of your industry, and builds access to career opportunities. Networking online, however, also offers a host of additional benefits.
It’s convenient. Instead of traveling to conferences, you can make the same connections from home.
You can expand your range. With online networking, you can build connections across the country and all around the world.
The internet levels the playing field. With traditional networking events, a hierarchy restricts access to the most influential people. Online platforms open connections across status layers.
It’s less intimidating. Approaching professionals in person can be daunting. Online, you don’t have to walk across a room and strike up a conversation. The dynamics can be very different.
10 Tips to successfully network online
1. Know your target network
Know your target network. You should know what types of people you wish to have in your network. For example, if you sell data tech, you should connect with IT managers.
Identify your niche. Finding a niche topic is a great way to create your personal brand, which is a critical step in online networking.
Find relevant people to approach. Target people who work at companies you’re interested in, and work in similar aspects of your target industry or connected aspects. Expanding your reach in many directions is important, but it’s even more important to be targeted in your approach. Don’t waste time throwing contacts into the wind.
Don’t get hung up on connecting with executives. Seniority isn’t the only thing that matters. You might instinctually think connecting with high-level executives is the only way, but it’s often more effective to build relationships with your peers. Surveys show that C-level professionals are the least likely to respond to people they don’t know, but people at lower levels respond most often.
2. Take advantage of social media networking sites
Begin by ensuring that your business or professional profile also has a presence on existing social media sites. Yes, this includes Facebook and Twitter, but also Instagram (which has 2 billion monthly active users), YouTube (2.2 billion MAU), Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Medium. These last few are content sharing sites, but with a high degree of social sharing and connection.
3. Join industry groups on social media
Beyond basic social media, there are platforms solely for establishing business communities. Sites such as Hivebrite, Commonroom, HigherLogic/Thrive, and Tribe to name a few. These sites offer a chance to join existing communities of peers. Build a reputation here, by engaging with posts, answering questions, and distributing other people’s content in the group.
4. Join an online mastermind
Masterminds are like matchmaking groups, but for business. This peer-to-peer mentoring group is designed to help members solve their problems. They’ve been around for a long time. And when it comes to business networking online, your mastermind group can be a huge source of social and business connections for you. Being in a great mastermind group can unlock all kinds of doors and set you on a new path in your career.
To join one online, you can find a group on either Meetup, Reddit, or Facebook. Even just go to Google or Meetup.com and search “mastermind groups near me.”
5. Attend virtual networking events
There are a vast array of free online events, conferences, and workshops happening every day, and they’re a great place to connect with other professionals in your industry.
You can find online networking events on Eventbrite, enterprise league, Hoppier, Vistage, and many more. Just do a quick online search for “business networking events + (your industry/niche)”
Attend as many of them as you can.
While there, be sure to participate actively. Ask good questions and study beforehand. It’s important to make a good impression.
Introduce yourself. When you do attend virtual events, introduce yourself in the chat and include your location and your current job title, and your professional goals.
6. Become a super connector
Do you know folks who just seem to know everybody? In the world of networking, they’re known as super connectors. If someone needs help, they know just the right person who can assist. While you may not have an expansive contact list yet, you can boost your networking value by spending a little time connecting people with each other.
Introduce people whose needs match another person’s strengths.
Introduce people who can help each other achieve a goal.
Host events with interesting people.
7. Create and share content
While joining online groups and making connections, it’s important to contribute to conversations and learning processes. This means adding information and perspectives to ongoing discussions. Remember: before expecting anything in return, be a contributor first.
Share and comment on relevant articles. Keep a lookout for articles that might be of interest to your network. When you find something good, share it with the group and offer your perspective to get the conversation going.
Write your own articles. If you really want to stand out, write articles yourself. This will take more research and responsibility for operating with due diligence, but it will begin your presence as a thought leader in the group.
Create and share other types of content. Blogs and articles are just one kind of content. Videos, presentations, and interviews are all interesting, in-depth, content that can really help you stand out.
Post content that establishes your expertise in your field. This is where finding your niche comes in handy. Try thought-provoking takes on hot topics, excerpts of presentations you’ve given, and so on.
8. Strengthen your online profiles
Make sure your online profiles make a great impression. You don’t want to put all that work into connecting with colleagues just for them to see a sloppy profile with old, inaccurate information when they look for you.
Use up-to-date photos and bios in all of your online profiles.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile has links to any versions of your work online you wish to showcase, lists achievements you want to highlight, and has a current CV in your profile.
Clean up any online content that you wouldn’t want potential employers or clients to see.
9. Be brief and clear in your communication
Cater your messages for digital conversations. Online communication is different from face-to-face interactions. So show extra diligence when crafting your messages:
Be sure to proofread anything before clicking “send.” Typos are a sign that you lack attention to detail.
Keep your messages fairly short, easy to read and understand, and maintain professionalism by avoiding internet slang or emojis.
Be deliberate with your language, precise with your intent, and clear in your ask. A lot of the nuance we’re used to with in-person conversation is lost online, so be sure to convey the right tone.
10. Be patient
Patience will be crucial as you start online networking. Digital interactions don’t happen at the same speed as in-person ones.
Think long-term. Look beyond your current job and try to identify areas that will become more important over the next few years. That could be in your niche or it could be something you expand into later on.
Start with small steps. There’s no need to build a presence on all of the online platforms all at once. Start by doing just a tiny bit more on the platforms you’re already using.
Follow up, but don’t be a pest. If you reach out to a contact, but don’t hear back, follow up a couple of times, but don’t pester them until they’re annoyed, and don't try to guilt someone into joining your network. It’s a good rule of thumb to give people two or three days to reply before reaching out again.
Stay active with your networks. Set aside a bit of time every week for online networking. Generating connections does not need to be a full-time job, but it does take some effort, so schedule time for it.
Developing a strong professional network takes commitment and dedication. But, just a little goes a long way. Consistency and quality are the keys to success here. Start with small steps and branch out as you get more comfortable. Every connection is another piece of your expanding network.
Having an outstanding resume as part of your online profile is crucial in making a great impression online. Let the experts at ZipJob help you build yours.
Robert Lyons, Freelance Writer
As a freelance writer, Robert has covered technology, travel, arts, the entertainment industry, and career development. Originally from the Midwest, he has lived in L.A. and Berlin but now is based in New York.