“Networking” has been a business buzzword since the 1970s, and it remains a fundamental element of the modern business world. However, what networking looks like has changed significantly since then.

These days, you don’t necessarily need to get in the room with people you want to connect with. You can build your network online instead.

The need for networking

The benefits of business networking remain essentially the same. For starters, it allows you to access the expertise of others in your field. If you have a business relationship with your peers, you can consult with them about different issues and enrich your own understanding of your industry.

Another advantage of a strong business network is that it empowers you to build your profile. You can become a well-known name in your field, someone who influences others and can make a real impact in their area of interest.

When you know and are known by change-makers and powerful people in your industry, you’re more likely to hear about exciting opportunities. You might be the first to be informed about a new position, or you may even be specifically approached to participate in a project.

If the benefits are the same, what makes online networking different? Well, you can now make connections and access opportunities on an international level without leaving your own home.

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The growth of online networking

Traditional business networking has evolved since the advent of the internet. In the early days of online networking, industries had their own dedicated message boards where people could exchange knowledge and build relationships with others in their field.

Now there are social networks, such as LinkedIn, which are designed to replicate and improve upon the traditional in-person networking experience. These networks were especially useful during the 2020 pandemic. Because people couldn’t leave their homes, many business events where networking would traditionally take place moved online.

As normality gradually returns, it’s natural to wonder whether traditional networking will make a comeback too. But will online networking continue to be a dominant force?

Where can I build my network online?

LinkedIn is the obvious choice for social media for business purposes; it was designed with networking in mind. However, there may be other options to explore. It’s also possible to build a dedicated following on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok—Creative industries have especially flourished there.

If you want to speak about specific issues, you might consider attending online conferences. We are more adept at using online conferencing software than ever, so don’t assume that you’ll just be listening to presentations. It’s also possible to take part in “fireside discussions” with smaller groups of fellow participants.

You can build deeper relations with a select group of people if you join an online mastermind. This involves meeting regularly to discuss pre-arranged topics over a set period of time. One purpose of a mastermind is to problem-solve collectively. You can ask others for their perspective on issues affecting your career.

What are the benefits of online networking over traditional networking?

Although the recent online networking boom was driven by the necessities of the pandemic, there are reasons to prefer it over traditional marketing:

  • It’s more convenient.
    Rather than spend time traveling to conferences, you can stay at home and make the same connections. It’s easier to pick and choose which parts of a conference are relevant to your business goals, too.
  • It’s low-cost.
    Events and conferences can be expensive. At these events, networking often takes place over dinner and drinks, which can incur additional costs. When you network online, you don’t need to pay for this or for travel.
  • You can expand your range.
    With traditional networking, you’re usually limited to events in your immediate area. Online networking allows you to build connections all around the world. As business becomes more international, it makes sense that networking follows suit.
  • The internet is democratizing.
    During traditional networking events, a hierarchy was often easily observable. For example, access to the most influential people in the room may have been restricted. However, everyone online has equal status, at least in theory.
  • It’s less intimidating.
    When you’re a newcomer to your industry, the prospect of approaching seasoned professionals in person can be daunting. With online networking, you don’t have to walk across the room, strike up a conversation, and introduce yourself in the same way. The dynamics can be very different.

Online networking tips

When networking online, bear the following tips in mind:

  1. Be clear about your objectives.

    What do you want to achieve with your online presence? Do you want to increase your influence, or gain access to specific opportunities? This knowledge will help you plan your contributions.
  2. Be authentic but professional.

    The only way to stand out online is to show your unique personality. However, you shouldn’t say anything that could endanger your career. Be wary of using shock tactics to get attention.
  3. Respond to other people’s requests.

    Remember, relationships have to be mutually beneficial. People will be less inclined to join your network if you’re often asking for support but never offering it.
  4. Connect your connections.

    One way you can be helpful to those in your network is by introducing them to one another. Add people with similar interests into small groups to stimulate more focused conversations.
  5. Respect boundaries and take it slow.

    You may be desperate to add someone to your network, but desperation can be off-putting. Be attentive to other people’s cues. If they’re not responding right now, circle back in a while. Don’t harass anyone or try to force relationships too quickly.
  6. Deepen your online connections.

    If you’ve been chatting via e-mail or direct messages for a long time, then you might want to suggest a Zoom or Skype call. An “online coffee morning” is a great way to informally emulate an in-person encounter.
  7. Post about what matters to you.

    The best way to build a following of like-minded people is by sharing content about your topics of interest. Keep your contributions relevant to your industry and your career goals.
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