While we are in lockdown, and even as we slowly go through the gears of getting back to the new normal, post COVID-19, it could well be a very long time before the traditional form of networking reappears. People may well be slow to get back to running events for large groups of people, in fact, it is unlikely to be allowed for some time as we transition down the alert levels in NZ. Further afield in other countries, this inability to congregate in larger groups may even run for a more extended period. So how can professionals network and build their networks, when they can’t physically network? Could going online and doing some social networking bet the answer?
Time to get social (online of course, it keeps that safe social distance!)
LinkedIn has now firmly established itself as the online networking tool for professionals. If you’re not on LinkedIn, where have you been hiding the last few years? It really is essential for all professionals to have a LinkedIn profile and build connections on the platform. Even if you have a profile and some connections, have you reviewed your profile recently? If not, I would urge that you do, the basic things to check are:
- You have an up to date and suitably professional-looking photo. It needs to look like you ‘actually’ do; people use this visual to make sure they are connecting with the correct person.
- You have a banner image – either one your company has provided or at the least a suitable photograph or stock-image (for smaller organisations, check out Canva, you can create your own banners very easily and affordably).
- Your employment history is up to date, it adds credibility to your profile.
- You’ve put some detail in the ‘About’ section of your profile. Talk in the first person, this is a social network, so use phrases like “I help my clients to complete their tax returns efficiently and on time” or “I’m responsible for leading a team of architects” etc.
There’s a lot more to making the most out of your LinkedIn profile and you can learn how to do just that in this article. For now, just having those 4 elements in order is enough for you to start building your networks and interacting meaningful online with people. This is what is referred to ‘social selling’ but the key is not to sell, it is to find ways to contribute meaningfully to conversations and to help people. It truly is more a case of learning how to do some basic ‘social networking’.
How to start social networking
To start creating links and establishing rapport with people, in many ways the same principles apply online as they do in more traditional networking sessions. The list below is designed to give you some basic practical pointers to follow to help you build a meaningful network on LinkedIn.
Follow the right conversations.
LinkedIn is constantly evolving and in 2018 they introduced hashtags which are useful in so many ways. Firstly, to follow news in any industry or sector type the name of that sector in your search bar as a hashtag, and then follow it e.g. #accountancy. You can also follow people, so if you think of someone you admire or is well respected in your industry, like, say, Simon Sinek, you can view their profile and then follow them. This will start to provide you LinkedIn feed (the page you see when you log-in with the news feeds now more relevant to your interests).
Share things of interest
While it’s great to consume information online to increase your own knowledge, being a passive consumer won’t help you in your networking quest. One of the easiest things to do when you see an article which is relevant and informative is to share that on LinkedIn. When sharing the post, say why it is relevant or what the key take-out is for your connections (your intended audience), and I’d also recommend tagging (done by typing @ in front of their name) in the original author or the article. This gives people a reason to read your shared article and by tagging in the author, it gives them a reason to comment on your share.
By regularly sharing interesting things, people on LinkedIn are more likely to interact with you as a source of good information. You can also share articles easily from any article you see online, most web pages have share buttons on them like this one does, hint hint! Or you can simply post the web address url into LinkedIn and post it with your comments. As a general guidance, to be truly interesting mix up sharing third-party articles and pieces of information alongside your own website information. If you only post about your company, LinkedIn itself will promote your content in its feeds a lot less and in any case, your audience will switch off. Remember your doing ‘social networking’ which means you want to encourage conversations, rather than overtly selling to people.
Join the conversation
The next thing that is a great idea is to comment meaningfully on people’s articles and posts. These comments will start to create a conversation on that topic and will create the opportunity for a sensible business dialogue to start to take place. The key here is to offer opinions in a constructive way, LinkedIn is not the social media platform for rage. To be honest I don’t really think any are, but LinkedIn is thankfully, in the main, free from any trolling types of posts. Quite often people provide helpful advice on LinkedIn to other professionals. If someone asks a question you can answer, then I’d recommend that you do. If it is a simple question then giving some free advice will be appreciated and will demonstrate your credibility in your field, and also that you are prepared to give your time to others to help them.
You can also join some of the groups on LinkedIn. Some of these are more active than others. The key is to find one in your area that is active and has posts that people in the group contribute to. Then, as per above, join the conversation.
Make new connections
If you see people are regularly commenting on the same articles as you, are active in similar groups, or maybe regularly like or comment on the things you post, then it is a great idea to connect with them. Send a note with your invite, along the lines of having shared interests and wanting to get to know them better, and then start to build a conversation.
Then take this a step further, if there are people you really do want to connect with, potential clients perhaps, then it is perfectly fine to try and connect with them. The approach is key, but if they are interested in similar things to you, then it is fine to use a similar approach to the above and again, start the conversation. You may also say you saw some research or an article by a third partythat you wanted to share with them, which you think will help them with a particular industry issue. Make sure that this article is not one from your company (also not a competitor). If it comes from your firm or company, you haven’t tried to connect meaningfully, you are pitching or selling! Which brings me to the last point.
Please don’t pitch.
At least, not until the other person asks you how you can help them. Social networking is about creating a desire or reason for the other person to connect with you. Therefore, avoid giving someone your cut and pasted sales pitch. These have a ridiculously low hit rate and they kill conversations stone dead. In building rapport with someone you should be able to move to the next stage.
Get that virtual meeting
Or go old school and just have a phone call! The point is to set up a reason through your social networking to have a meeting, which at the moment means zoom, skype etc. It really is a great way to build a connection, find out the other person’s current priorities and where you can help them, either through your networks or potentially your services.
So, even when we can’t network in person, we can certainly still network.
If you want help with your BD efforts, we can provide that remotely. To find details of how we can use technology to provide our services, click here.
If you want to get some tips on how to network the old school way, you’ll find them here.