I think we can all agree that networking is one of the most useful activities any business owner or executive can engage in. Not only does it provide you with useful contacts, it also opens up opportunities to either break into new markets or partner with like-minded people. Also, it can mean the start of long-lasting friendships.
But even with the above, many still shy away from online networking, eschewing it as unnecessary and inferior to making contacts in person. This is not the case at all. Online networking is, in many ways, better and more effective than in-person networking (although inter-personal networking is still a very important skill to have).
Increase your global reach through online networking
When you network in person, you are limited to your physical location. Of course, you can always travel to far off places in order to meet people, but you’re still limited to where you currently are.
With online networking, however, you can expand your reach much, much farther. You can introduce yourself to someone in China and pitch your business to someone in the United Kingdom at the same time. Not only that, but you can easily share information with them just by sending them a file or giving them a link. You can connect with more people at a faster pace in a manner that’s still convenient for you.
Communications don’t necessarily have to be time sensitive, either. Email and messaging programs give you time to consider your response. You’re not under as much pressure to respond immediately as you are with a face-to-face conversation, so there’s less chance of you being pushed into an awkward deal or arrangement. You can actually sit back, do some research, and consider your next course of action before responding to the other person.
And the best part? Online communications can be documented. You no longer have to refer to half-remembered conversations and argue over the interpretation. Just bring up the email and re-read it.
You can develop specialized skills
As you can imagine, networking in person and networking online require a totally different set of skills. Even if you don’t currently have the below skills, it’s worth spending some time to develop them. You’ll find a lot of use for them even asides from networking.
Email writing skills
You’re not going to be using just email, but the same principle applies. Learn how to write using proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You’re a professional representing yourself and your business, and so you should look professional as well. On the Internet, the way you type is the equivalent of your fashion and grooming. Just as you would wear a suit and tie at an event, so should you write properly constructed emails.
On the Internet, you have to be extra careful on what you say and how you say it. You don’t have the luxury of body language or vocal tones to help read a person during a conversation. Many sites have strict rules on how users should behave, and it’s important for you to learn them before stepping out of your shell. But despite all of the differences, the following rules still apply: be polite, be respectful, and be understanding.
Over the course of your introductions, you have to be able to judge whether or not the person you’re meeting is actually who he claims to be. It is very easy to misrepresent yourself online. Make a habit of doing some research on the people you meet by checking out their online profiles in various social networking sites and reading up on their company or business. Over time, you’ll be able to develop a sixth sense for stories that just don’t add up.
If you’re going to network effectively, you have to go through it in an organized and systematic manner as evidenced by Union11 Wedding Photography Studio and their social media campaigns. Decide in advance what you’re trying to achieve and which markets or segments you’re going to be focusing on, and from there determine which online networking sites would be best suited for you. Going through the process haphazardly may net you a lot of contacts, but chances are these people will not be able to help you or your business.
Where to effectively network online?
The beauty about networking online is that there are so many avenues available to you, each with their own advantages. You can tailor your approach to your situation and focus on what you find most enjoyable or most effective.
If you’re a small or independent business owner, you’ll be pleased to know that some professionals volunteer their time and expertise and “mentor” their less experienced peers. They aren’t going to become business partners, but they will offer advice and share the lessons they’ve learned. You can find these people either through their blogs or via business mentoring directories.
Many industry professionals have their own blogs, and the most influential ones have thriving communities of blog commenters, who gather together to discuss the ideas presented in a given post. Joining in is as simple as posting a comment on an article and speaking to other users on the commenting thread.
Despite being around for nearly twenty years, online message boards still play a major role in how Internet communities connect and communicate. Most forum boards have a singular focus, whether it is a hobby, industry, or fandom. Signing up is relatively easy, but do note that many boards have a strict set of behavioral guidelines that you should follow–the most common of which is “no selling.”
Sites like these give you access to the most number of people, and each site has a different purpose. Some focus on small business opportunities and needs, while others work on a more personal level and connect individuals with one another.
Here’s a short list of good social media sites for entrepreneurs and business professionals:
- LinkedIn – One of the most popular professional networking sites in the world. Helps businesses recruit employees, promote businesses, and gain B2B customers.
- Biznik – A B2B community that focuses on small business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs.
- StartupNation – Focuses on developing entrepreneurs and helping aspiring business owners.