Networking in the 'new normal' has significantly changed.
From dipping rates of face-to-face networking events through to reduced attendances as a result of the pandemic, the challenges of effective networking seem to be very much on the rise.
However, the importance of networking and the skill of doing so remains the same, if not even more crucial in this new world of work. And as the world slowly unlocks across the globe alongside the new opportunity of virtual networking events, not all is lost.
Uncover our five invaluable ways to successfully build your personal network and learn how to network effectively in business.
What is strategic networking?
In a business context, networking is the process of making mutually beneficial working relationships with fellow colleagues or individuals external to an organisation, and the purpose of doing so is to take advantage of others' experiences that can be used to develop knowledge and open future business opportunities. The benefits of networking are that you can begin building business connections, learn new ideas, and even access free career advice and job opportunities.
1. Develop your professional social media presence
A good place to start is to build your personal brand to enable networking opportunities on social media channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. According to Oberlo, there were 3.78 billion social media users in 2021, so the likelihood is that your colleagues or a key contact you have just met is on some form of social media for you to connect with and develop a long-term business relationship.
Developing your social media presence is a key first step to this, and in order to do so, you’ll want to make sure your social media profiles are professional by following these rules:
- choose a username and write a biography that clearly identifies you in a business context, using your full name and the company name you work for
- add professional contact details such as your work email address
- upload a professional headshot image of yourself that is ‘passport-style’ rather than those Saturday night selfies
- clearly showcase the organisation you work for and where relevant, the type of work you create and your key achievements
- make sure that your tone on social media is professional and consistent throughout
You can also use tools such as the LinkedIn Social Selling Index Score calculator to assess how well your profile is performing and how you can develop it furthermore, and follow the latest social media trends to help you regularly update your profiles.
2. Attend networking events and webinars
Once your social media profiles are optimised, it’s time to begin making connections with other professionals external to your company by attending networking events or online webinars.
At these events, like minded professionals come together to share knowledge and build connections with other industry experts, and in order for your attendance to be the most successful it can be, find networking events based on your:
- location – visit networking events that are close to where you are based or at the place where you’d like to work to begin building your network in a specific part of the world
- industry – make sure that the events you are going to are relevant to your industry or area of work to connect with like-minded people who can help you at some stage of your career journey
- interests – look out for networking events based at venues that you have an interest in. For example, if it’s at a famous gallery that you like the artist of, you can use this topic as a conversation starter.
The COVID-19 pandemic initially limited networking opportunities with face-to-face events prohibited, however this has now unlocked a huge amount of online networking opportunities in the form of virtual webinars and conferences. Whilst you may not have the ‘real-life’ interaction with other professionals or experience the free coffee and nibbles, online networking events can be just as an effective way to build your network and for those who are perhaps more introverted, can be done from the comfort of your own home.
When attending any form of networking event, the key is to be yourself and don’t try to sell anything! Your main objective here is to build a network with contacts that are mutually beneficial to both yourself and other professionals.
3. Connect with new contacts on social media
Since you’ve returned from your in-person or virtual networking event and met some key contacts, it’s time to connect with them via your professional social media profiles. Do this at a time that you feel is right for both parties but again, be yourself and don’t try to sell anything as this will make them reluctant to connect with you. You can approach them for anything other than making the immediate connection much further down the line when you’ve properly developed a mutual business relationship.
To connect with them on social media, search via their name, company, or location to add them on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter for example. You could even send them a personalised message privately on how you enjoyed meeting them at a networking event, but make sure you reiterate who you are and your area of expertise in the message.
You can also begin networking on social media by interacting with posts published by other professionals in your line of work. Perhaps you could also share any tips or expertise to help them out when commenting on their posts or react and reshare their updates if you’ve found it particularly interesting.
4. Don’t forget about your internal network
Whilst you’re busy developing your network with individuals external to your organisation, it’s important to not forget networking with those who you work with on a day-to-day basis or those that you ‘know of’ who are also employed by the same company as you. Although they might not seem a valuable connection as they are employed ‘under the same roof’, they may be a good asset to your career trajectory in the long-term as different people leave and join various companies.
To successfully network with your immediate and wider team, make sure you are visible at work events to get to know people on a personal level, and regularly showcase the great work you and the team are doing or come together for brainstorming and ideas sharing sessions.
Even more effectively, to grow your network furthermore, introduce yourself to someone new whilst making a coffee in the office to get to know people in your organisation outside of your department, or if you are too nervous about doing so in person, then drop them a virtual message. These interactions could be invaluable to you if you are looking to switch your career direction at any point, or if the person you meet becomes an expert in your field further down the line.
5. Stay in touch with your built network
So, you’ve mastered your personal brand, and built a brilliant network full of internal and external experts in your field of work... perfect! But a few years have passed now, and you forgot to keep in touch with any of them or shared that amazing promotion you worked so hard to get, so it’d be a bit strange to ask them for support now wouldn’t it?
Yes, it would be, and that’s if they even remember you amongst there 500+ connections on LinkedIn.
Once you have a healthy network pool that you are continually adding to, it’s important to stay connected with your connections to stand out from the crowd and ensure they remain useful contacts for many years to come.
Here are a few tips to help you stay in touch:
- For those internal to your company, share a piece of thought leadership content with them that they might find interesting. This does not need to be overly frequent but share how it resonated with a particular work scenario you were both in and how it made you think of them
- Drop the occasional message to those connections that you made at a conference or networking event. Similarly to the above point you could even share a news article you found interesting with them to check in, or this could even be as simple as wishing them a happy birthday or work anniversary
- If you find it too uncomfortable sending your network a private message, then comment or like any of their work updates on social media or write your own updates to keep the conversation going
- Congratulate your network on their achievements such as promotions or project wins, to show that you care about how their career is panning out. A simple like or comment here and there will keep you well connected
At Pearson UK Learns, we’ve created a range of courses to help you develop your network and build your career. If you need further advice, consider studying our two networking courses:
Communication and confidence are also crucial to successful networking, so if you are feeling shy or nervous about networking, develop these skills through more of our online courses:
Interested in growing your career in 2022? Check our some of our other blogs:
Ready to take the next challenge? Head to Pearson UK Learns and explore our ever-growing range of online courses, from cross-sector professional skills that will help you build your network to industry-specific accredited qualifications that real employers’ value. There’s something for everyone at Pearson UK Learns.