There is more than one way to find quality network connections and, in this article, we’ll be looking at five of the most effective online networking strategies that actually work.
No matter if you are a student, an introvert, a business owner or and entrepreneur, you should have a strategy before embarking on any long-term project or campaign. And it’s no less true when networking.
A goal without a plan is just a wish.Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Table of Contents
- Strategy or Tactics
- Why have an online networking strategy?
- Secrets to implementing an effective strategy
- Reach out regularly
- Use a checklist or CRM
- Offer value
- Be generous
- Mutually connect your connections
- The 5 online networking strategies
- Reconnection Strategy
- Relationship Expansion Strategy
- RBR (Reach Out – Build – Reinforce) Strategy
- FEB (Follow – Engage – Build) Strategy
- Invite and Engage Strategy
- Use a Combined Approach
Strategy or Tactics
While all networking experts promote networking strategies, many of them confuse tactics with strategy.
Tactics, in the networking sense, are tips and tricks designed to grab the attention of potential connections or to help build your established relationships.
A strategy, as it pertains to online business networking, is a multi-faceted plan of action intended to achieve the goal of either including a potential connection in your network (as a fully fledged connection), or relegating them to your contacts list. A networking strategy is made up of goals, plans, schedules and tactics.
Why have an online networking strategy?
While your networking strategy will most-probably include tactics intended to streamline the process of finding and impressing suitable network connections, it should not rely solely on a “bag of tricks”.
Instead, it should be built upon a practical, over-arching, and multi-step plan that will have real-world results.
Every relationship you nurture will require an investment of time and effort, and as such, is a campaign with a goal. What is more, although each relationship will require a unique approach, most can have one of five particular strategies assigned to it so that managing the relationship building process can be made easier.
Failing to have at least a rudimentary long-term strategy in place for any substantial project is a recipe for failure.
Secrets to implementing an effective strategy
It goes without saying that any successful online networking strategies should be based on the basic tenets of good networking. This is not the place for an in-depth discussion of these principles, but just in case you haven’t come across them before, the most important of them are:
Reach out regularly
Contacting prospective or existing network connections regularly has several benefits that include
- It reminds them that you are around and interested in what they have going on,
- It allows you to find out what challenges and problems they are facing since you were last in contact
- It enables you to find out if you can help them in any way, thereby building trust and increasing the value of your mutual relationship.
Use a checklist or CRM
If you want to optimize your networking process, it’s essential to keep on top of each relationship so you are as informed as possible about each of your connections before you reach out to them.
Doing this will help you save time, be more engaged and, ultimately, increase the chance that your connections will become valuable members of your network.
You can track your network efforts using a spreadsheet program like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, although this requires constant updating and the files can become unwieldy as your network grows.
You can also use a CRM (Client/Customer Relationship Manager) that will allow you to build a profile of each of your connections and quickly and easily update it. Using a CRM is, obviously, the preferred method of network tracking.
Your connections aren’t interested in a relationship with you because you are a nice person. The cold, hard truth is that everyone in business is trying to extract as much as possible from everything they do. This means they are looking for value. They want to know that you have something to offer them, whether that be skills, insights, information or connections before they entertain the idea of building a relationship with you.
Leading on from the previous point, be sure to offer whatever value you can to your connections for free (or for as little as possible). People appreciate generosity and will be willing to make time for you if your generosity is genuine.
Mutually connect your connections
Finally, remember that you are building a network, a lattice of mutually connected people, all connected to you but also connected to one another. Your task, as the network “administrator” is to encourage those in your network to connect with one another by introducing them to each other. Good networkers go the extra mile and help their connections uncover ways they can work together or help one another.
This is a big part of the value you can offer.
Remember that these principles don’t only work online, but offline too.
The 5 online networking strategies
Let’s get down to discussing the five online networking strategies for building your network.
Many people overlook the value of people they have known in the past. Like you, these long lost friends and acquaintances develop and change, gaining experience and skills, building their careers and looking for opportunities of their own.
It’s easy to think of your high-school acquaintance who was shy and lacked motivation as still suffering from those hindrances, but they may have changed in untold ways. They may be a successful business person with a powerful network of movers and shakers. And while strangers might struggle to even get an opportunity to talk to this person, your previous relationship with them might just give you the access that would allow you to start building a connection with them.
And if they are not highly accomplished business people or celebrities, remember that each of them has their own network that may contain high value people you could connect with directly.
Here are some ideas for people to contact who may have faded from your life,
- your extended family who you haven’t seen for a long time,
- friends that you have fallen out of contact with,
- ex-colleagues from previous jobs,
- old sports teammates,
- ex-military buddies,
- old clients or service providers, and
- ex-teachers or professors
As long as they have some idea who you are, it’s worth having a conversation to find out more about how they are doing and whether or not they would be suitable candidates for your network.
Relationship Expansion Strategy
This strategy involves expanding upon an already existing relationship.
Think about the people you already deal with in a professional capacity, especially clients, vendors and service providers. These people already have a relationship with you, so it would seem natural to expand that relationship where appropriate.
Those last two words are very important. Be sure to only venture beyond the bounds of your initial purely transactional relationship where the person you are dealing with appears at least somewhat receptive.
Expanding a relationship beyond its transactional bounds is far easier when you meet with the other party face-to-face. Expect resistance when undertaking this strategy online, and be upfront and honest about what you would like to achieve by staying in touch with them.
Tell them that you will expect nothing from them (no special terms or discounted pricing) and that you would like to simply get in touch every few months to find out if you can help them in any way.
They might be suspicious about you not wanting anything from them, and this is natural. To put them at ease, tell them that in time, once they feel comfortable being part of your network, they will have the opportunity to help other members in any way they feel comfortable doing so. The goal is that everyone in the network gives what they can so that everyone benefits.
Finally, be sure to list some benefits for them (value such as referral business, advice or insights), and reassure them that you’ll both just be testing the water. If it doesn’t work out, no harm, no foul.
RBR (Reach Out – Build – Reinforce) Strategy
This strategy is one most often used on websites like LinkedIn, where anyone can contact anyone else.
Many people who are at more-or-less your level of achievement or success (your near-peers) will be keen to connect with you, thereby opening up an opportunity to start a conversation.
You may be tempted to just reach out to anyone who crosses your path, but it’s best to do some research and find people you think may be good additions to your network.
Look for people who are proactive, engaging and involved online. Check out their websites and social media pages to find out more about them and their motivations.
Remember that most of them will remain contacts only and they will not engage with you of their own accord unless they want something. As such, they will not become connections and become part of your network. As contacts, however, they remain useful resources that you can use or refer your network connections to.
FEB (Follow – Engage – Build) Strategy
Just as you build a list of potential near-peer connections, so you should also build a list of aspirational connections. These would be people with far more social and business clout than you have. They would be the business owners, thought leaders and mentors that you see all over social media.
You won’t be able to use the same strategy you would use to reach out to near-peers, as these highly successful people get swamped with messages daily. Instead, you would need a far more tactical approach that you will execute over an extended period of time.
Needless to say, it will take substantial time and effort to get to a point where you can establish a one-to-one conversation with them.
I would therefore suggest following this strategy for two or three people at one time only.
And when identifying potential aspirational connections, be realistic. The chances that you will be able to include Bill Gates or Richard Branson in your network are slim to nothing. Lower your expectations a little to industry leaders and up-and-comers. And make sure they not only respond to comments and posts themselves, but seem keen to have conversations with others in their message threads.
Then read their posts often and add thoughtful and insightful comments where you can. Do not fawn over them or post “fluff” (such as “Awesome post, Bob.”). Your informed and thought-provoking engagement will often catch their eye and sooner or later, they will respond to you.
Do this enough and they might start looking out for you in their comments. Sooner or later you will find a way to provide value to them, and at this point, they would be fairly open to engaging via direct message or e-mail.
Patience is the key to this strategy, but the pay-off is huge.
Invite and Engage Strategy
The final strategy is the opposite of the previous one. It presupposes that you publish either a newsletter, post on a blog or on social media or make and post videos or podcasts.
This strategy involves you identifying suitable network candidates from your subscribers, followers and people you invite onto your podcast (if you have one). The third category is a little different from the first two, in that those you invite onto your podcast would be near-peers and would have already established their value as experts in their field.
Most subscribers, commentors and followers would post their comments and ideas sporadically and would not be very noticeable, even with a small following. But you may find that a few are insightful and engaging. These are worth communicating with to evaluate for your network.
Use a Combined Approach
Depending on your situation, you would use a combined approach, applying as many of these online networking strategies as possible to find high value potential connections. You could then start evaluating and building relationships with them.
And while most of these strategies work on and offline, the Internet makes finding and building connections easier and more effective.
We have seen that although there are five online networking strategies,
- Reconnections Strategy,
- Relationship Expansion Strategy,
- RBR Strategy,
- FEB Strategy, and
- Invite and Engage Strategy,
all of them are firmly rooted in the tenets of effective networking. Each strategy is suited to a particular group of people and if you can configure your approach to grab their attention and build trust, you will find all five online networking strategies useful. And don’t think that you should just choose one strategy – you should try to use all of them whenever you can.
If you are interested in reading more about building a powerful business network, take a look at this article: Who to Network With.