How to network in a time of social distancing
Personal connections are invaluable to your professional development. While remote working has its strengths, networking isn’t one of them. How can you truly connect with someone when you’re not in the same physical space? And how can you meet new people when you have to stay at home?
To effectively network in the current climate, you have to adjust your attitude, your expectations and your strategy.
1. Start with the network you already have
Networking advice often revolves around meeting new people. But while making connections is important, so is maintaining the relationships you already have.
What kind of regular interactions do you have with other members of your organization? Videoconferencing, email and instant messaging make it easy to communicate, but networking isn’t just about exchanging information. Networking is about making a connection.
If all of your interactions with your colleagues can be tied back to particular projects, take a little time to check in on a personal level. Everyone is under a lot of stress right now, and a friendly message can help brighten someone’s workday. Remind your team members that you’re more than an email address.
Personal messages are just a start. You have the technology, so invite your whole team to a virtual coffee break or happy hour. The more ways you can interact with your colleagues and peers, the stronger your bonds will become.
2. There’s no social distancing on social media
You have a LinkedIn account, but how often do you use it? Many of us spend hours setting up the perfect profile while we’re job hunting, only to let it languish as soon as we land a position. Now is the time to recover that password and start exploring the online community — with so many workers going remote in recent weeks, LinkedIn is more active than ever.
Unsure where to start? Read up on tips for using LinkedIn to improve your career. Search for your colleagues. Join groups that are relevant to your interests, and don’t be shy about speaking up. You never know when you might meet someone new or reconnect with an old contact, and that won’t happen if you’re only lurking.
While many finance and accounting professionals prefer LinkedIn, you can connect with individuals and relevant groups on virtually every social media platform. Just don’t spread yourself too thin trying to be everywhere at once. Consider your strategy as you build a social media presence.
3. Make real connections at virtual events
A conference is the ideal networking opportunity: like-minded professionals gather in one place, and the presentations, panels and workshops give them plenty to talk about between sessions. Business cards are swapped as freely as observations, and we come away with new contacts as well as new ideas.
While large social gatherings are currently off the table, you can get all the same benefits from a virtual event.
Many conferences offered online attendance options even before the current situation, and many more are now going virtual to avoid postponing or canceling. You can register online, select the most interesting sessions and live stream the whole thing. Depending on the event, chat windows and videoconferencing enable you to engage your fellow attendees. It’s the next best thing to being there in person — without the travel expenses.
4.Tie it all together
To make the most out of these strategies, you need to use them in tandem. By strengthening your relationships with people you already know, you increase the likelihood they will want to introduce you to new people or new opportunities. But that’s not all. Being friendly with your teammates may encourage them to engage with you on social media.
This is important because the more you interact with people on social media, the more visible you are. And the more visible you are, the more likely you are to attract attention from potential new contacts. A friend of a friend or even a perfect stranger might want to respond to your comments, but that requires you to make comments in the first place.
Just as your real-world contacts can help you network on social media, your social media contacts can help you network at virtual events. By joining relevant groups on social media, you can discuss upcoming conferences with your friends and potentially meet fellow attendees. If there isn’t a group for your interest area already, start one yourself — it’s another great way to meet people.
We’re all limiting our human interactions these days, but that doesn’t have to mean limiting your human connections. With the right attitude, you can continue to develop your professional network without ever leaving home.
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