The scary thing is, when removing the Halloween mask and facing the truth about networking during COVID, is that it is not only less impactful in virtual environments, but because we’ve lost the spontaneous opportunities to connect with others, it is also more difficult now than ever before. That’s why we’ve got you covered with this guide on how to network during COVID.
In an era where we are relying on our network for everything from emotional support to career advancement, the need to transition into an effective virtual networking environment has become essential to survival.
In a 2017 global LinkedIn Survey, they found that 80% of professionals said networking was important to career success. However, that figure is under the assumption that you can interact with people face to face. This is key because the connection when sharing a physical experience is much more powerful than a video or phone call (and much more fun).
In the future, we will all have stories about the struggles of living through a pandemic, but for us who thrive on new connections, the hardest part is being forced to limit our exposure to others and prevented from mixing in large groups. Not only has it severely affected the mental health of the planet, but it also makes building meaningful and long-lasting social and business relationships that much more difficult to achieve.
Also, think about the reasons that tip us over to the decision to network frequently, we can normally do so while enjoying food and drink in a gorgeous event space or hotel. These extra perks allow us to combine our desire for social events with the opportunity to expand our networks for the future.
Those fringe benefits instantly disappear when transitioning to your home office and making conversation with boxes of faces over bad wifi. The sad truth is that networking during COVID is both more of a chore AND less effective, but until things are resolved with the global pandemic we must evolve. And here’s the ultimate guide on how:
- Define your networking goal. What are you looking to achieve and more importantly why? The number 1 rule in networking is to give before you receive, so having a clear understanding of whether you are looking to strengthen current relationships or widen your network to attract more clients, it has to be clearly defined in your head and kept in mind while considering the tips below.
- Brush the cobwebs off old chat threads and re-start conversations with people you already have chat threads with. These could possibly be contacts you normally see at industry events or at any pre-COVID hobbies you enjoyed. The conversation can begin with absolutely no real purpose and right now we all have the perfect icebreaker, as the entire globe is being affected by the same affliction! As things naturally progress you will find a subject that ignites the conversation and when you do, agree to schedule a video call to catch up and discuss further. Everyone has become a master at the art of video calls or facetime so make use of those tools, send an invite for virtual coffee, and without any expectations just catch up with them and see where it leads you.
- Go (safely) Outside. This time of the year pumpkin patches, farmers markets, and local shops are open, and, done safely, you can have a pleasant conversation with locals or pick up a flier for an upcoming event. You never know what inspiration, partnerships or connections you might make just by going outdoors and interacting with the local community. Network more in everyday life with these ideas from another post on the subject.
- Send more voice notes. WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, and most other messaging apps have the ability to send voice notes in place of text. This is my favorite way to connect with someone when we can’t be together and I don’t want to bother them with a call. Depending on how well you know the contact and how much you want to say, if it’s one of those subjects that would take too long to compose the appropriate text for, then consider a voice message instead, to make a personal connection quickly.
- Utilize your current network by reaching out in lots of different ways, consistently. An easy way to achieve this is to put a reminder in your daily schedule to reach out to at least 2 people either via social media or by dropping them a call just to keep the relationship strong but also to ensure that as social beings we are getting a daily dose. One easy way to do this is to add a personal note to the beginning of emails or daily messages. Instead of just responding to an inquiry matter of factly, start with, “thanks for reaching out, hope you enjoyed the long weekend we had…” and then get to business. The key is for there to be a nod to the human behind the email but not go too off-topic as to annoy the recipient. If there is someone specific you’d like to connect with that you don’t already know, look at any mutual connections and then use a message like this:
- “ Hi ___, listen I need your help, ______ is what I am wanting to do, and wonder if you know anyone that you know that you’d recommend I connect with? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated and I’d be happy to return the favor in the future.”
- Engage via Social media. Like, comment, update your profile pic/details and share! Engaging on social media puts you in front of contacts with who you might not physically be able to see or share a social bubble. Join groups on Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest and start to engage with the posts and members in that group on topics you share an interest in.
- Join an association because during the pandemic they all increasingly offer discounts on virtual memberships, allowing you to join a couple of them instead of just one. Associations or organizations within your industry are a great place to network or participate in activities during high-quality productions of virtual conferences and events with a specific, motivated, and committed group.
- Offer your expertise. The popularity of webinars, podcasts, and virtual events are growing while we are all stuck indoors. Look for speaking opportunities that you can offer your services for. Do a little research and find a virtual event, apply to be a keynote speaker, guest, or contributor. The more you get your name out there, the more likely you are to make a connection with someone interested in your perspective.
- Ask to interview someone you admire. Be curious and specific about the person you are reaching out to and make it as informal as possible. There should be a tangible reason for the interview, whether that is to gain insight into the industry, to include the interview on your blog or just to learn more about the reality of that career path. Be sure to clearly outline how long you need their time, the benefit to you and where and how the information they give you will be used. If this goes well you could also end up gaining a valuable resource or mentor out of this interaction that can enrich your life for years to come.
- Learn something new. Take courses, get certified or try a tutorial online and learn something new that will help you progress further towards your goal. The networking here takes place by ensuring the learning environment includes access to fellow students or instructors that you can interact with throughout the process. Afterwards, post your achievement on your social profiles and you start to attract engagement from those who are interested in following in your learning path.
So that’s it, use the ultimate guide to motivate you to continue creating new connections! It can be easy to just give up on networking right now because it does seem almost impossible to get the return on your investment of time and effort. Keep in mind though that when the world gets back to normal and we can see people in person again, they will remember those who reached out during the crisis v.s those that didn’t bother.
Everyone is feeling some degree of isolation, boredom, and anxiety while we wade our way through this horrible crisis and I think although it’s a scary time for us all, there are still more reasons to put effort into networking right now than there are against it.