In the age of smartphones and 5G networks, social media has been the lens through which many people view the world. Online networks exist on every social media platform and the network is the “social” part of each social network. It’s your followers on Twitter and Instagram, your friends on Facebook and your contacts on LinkedIn.
Online networking is the process of expanding and developing your network of social and business relationships through online communication channels, especially social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Obviously, some platforms are better suited to online networking than others and while you will find proponents for building relationships on pretty much every platform, there are quite obviously those that make networking easier and those that frustrate the process. We’ll be focusing on the former, here.
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The Advantages of Online Networking
As important as networking is, most people recoil at the thought of attending networking events with their attendant social pressures and the self-imposed and perceived expectations. The good news is that networking online is not only possible but even preferable.
Some advantages of online networking over attending events are;
- Convenience – This is a big advantage. Whereas attending a networking event can take hours, including travel time, attending the event itself and then traveling back to your office or home, online networking can be done at any time. It can be done while drinking your morning coffee or when you have twenty minutes to spare while waiting for an appointment. Another aspect of convenience is that many people cannot, or find it difficult to, travel to networking events – or even smaller meetups. Online networking can offer them the chance to build as potent a network as anyone attending events in person.
- Low Cost – Even if an event is free (which few are), the costs involved in getting to and from the face-to-face networking event can make it burdensome. And if you factor in membership fees of networking organizations or the cost of attending premium conferences and conventions, you really have to come away from such events having added several phenomenal new connections to your network for there to be worthwhile ROI. Online networking, on the other hand, is free or close to it.
- Lack of Pressure – More than the cost and inconvenience of attending networking events, most people despise them because of the social pressure to perform that they feel. Sure, a lot of that pressure is self-imposed, but it plays a big part in the overall negative perception of face-to-face networking. Finding and connecting with people online removes a lot of the stress. You get to plan out what you want to say so that you convey your message precisely, without stumbling over your words or uttering confusing statements. Essentially, networking online allows you to get you and your foibles out of the way to focus on how you can help the people you are communicating with.
- Deliberate – You plan your day, your exercise routine, your business’ path to success. So why not plan your network? To optimise the value of your network, not only to you but to one another as well, you need to seek out specific types of people. This takes time and effort and is something that could never be achieved if left to chance. Yes, it’s important to accept that serendipity plays its part in putting other people who will make valuable network connections in your path. But your network is far too valuable (potentially) to let Lady Luck decide who you will invite into it.
With regard to the above points, I must stress that I am in no way suggesting that you do no face-to-face networking. It has its place in the process of building business relationships, but in my opinion, that place is not the point of first contact (unless you are a social dynamo who thrives on meeting new people, of course). You establish your relationships, make sure that your connections conform to your requirements, build up a good idea of who they are and what they do and then you try to meet face-to-face.
Why Networking is Good for Business
Successful business owners will attest to the value of networking. After all, business is all about the relationships we build with clients, with partners, with mentors and with co-workers and staff. Unfortunately, many business owners do not recognize this underappreciated activity and spend little time thinking about and working on building their network. The truth of the matter is that many such business owners struggle to find success, thinking that if they just work a little harder, advertise a little more or streamline their business a little more, the success will come. However, although all of these activities can help the bottom line of your business, none can have the impact of having built up a powerful network, one with proactive connections willing to tap their own networks for resources to help you.
Online Networking for Business
Networking online has changed the game as it allows every business owner, no matter how big or small their enterprise, no matter how young or old they are, and no matter how much money they have behind them, to build up a solid network over time. If you approach networking online with the right attitude of generosity and appreciation, as well as a willingness to stick with it, you will grow your network, and, over time, you will see untold rewards for the time and effort invested.
Disadvantages of Networking Online
There is a big “BUT”, however. Networking online has its own idiosyncrasies. Here are a couple of things you need to realize about online networking so that you don’t get disillusioned by a lack of results in the early stages – along with some tips on how to overcome them;
- It’s Easy … Perhaps Too Easy – The “easiness” of online networking cuts both ways. In the same way that it’s easy to reach out to connect with someone, so it’s also easy for them to delete your message or even block you. The reality is that you need to send out loads of “feeler” messages to see who responds and how they reply. From these responses, you can make a “hit list” of people to target. However, you should send feeler messages out pretty much constantly.
- It Takes a Long Time – This is one aspect of online networking the puts most people off. Due to the fact that you don’t have the immediacy of face-to-face contact when networking online, demonstrating your good faith and reliability to others more-often-than-not takes a long time; from months to even years. In an age where most people want everything done yesterday, most people don’t have the patience to wait for online relationships to mature.
- You Can Get Scammed – When reaching out to strangers, you are reliant upon what they say when communicating with you. This can be very different from the reality of their situation, as it’s not difficult to create a false identity online. As a result, it’s far easier to fall victim to online scammers than it is face-to-face. The solution is to be wary especially when someone you have contacted is a little too keen to get involved in a venture with you or to involve you in a scheme that promises unrealistic returns. You have to be careful and you need to be ready to walk away if anything about someone you have contacted doesn’t look or feel kosher.
- There are Few Online Tools Available to Network Online Properly – The truth is that although there are online platforms through which you can network, like LinkedIn or Shapr, there are few dedicated, purpose-built online networking tools. Tribemine is one such tool, built from the ground up to enable you to find prospects, reach out easily and then track your relationship with each connection both on tribemine.com and on other social media platforms.
If you are keen to network online, you first need to understand the landscape. However, once you have reconciled yourself with the facts of connecting online, I am sure that you will find it rewarding and valuable.
How We Can Benefit from Networking
With all of this talk of business networking, what are the benefits thereof? Why should we spend our time forging relationships?
Your network holds unimaginable value for you and your business. Locked away within it are potential deals and clients that will make you huge amounts of money. There may also be people who can help grease the wheels of commerce or government to get benefits that would otherwise be impossible. There may be future business partners, mentors, coaches or valuable staff members. The list of possible benefits is endless. For more benefits, feel free to read this article.
Online networking is not only different from face-to-face networking, it has a whole lot of advantages over the latter. It’s a new frontier in business relationship building and should be an important facet of your marketing mix – not necessarily for sales but far more pertinently, for the consolidation of your business’ place in the commercial ecosystem.
So, how about doing some networking? Head over to LinkedIn, find a few people to reach out to and start conversations (take a look at some other articles on this blog about how to do that). Start today and get building!