Networking online is an effective and exciting way to develop your career and expand your business.
Many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of networking, as it can seem pushy or aggressive. However, networking is simply making connections with people who you potentially want to collaborate with, learn new skills from or get your next job opportunity – building relationships, and benefiting everyone involved.
Networking is all about taking a proactive approach to finding ways to reach out to people and make them aware of what you have to offer. It’s a lot easier than you might think to make these connections online, as you can be specific with exactly what kind of person you are looking to meet.
Virtual networking is still second preference to face-to-face networking in the UK. However, with the ongoing pandemic and the expansion of online services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other websites that allow entire conferences to take place online, networking from your phone or laptop is becoming easier, more beneficial and sometimes essential.
1. First impressions matter
Most people I know that frequently network online have separate profiles: one for their friends and family, and one for their professional life. A separate profile can be curated to show everything a client, potential employer or valuable industry connection would want to know about your professional experience or your business.
For example, in the last few years, Instagram has become increasingly important for freelancers and creatives to showcase their work – essentially, a professional portfolio/CV disguised as a social media account.
Many publishing professionals on Instagram, part of a larger community known as ‘Bookstagram’, use the social media platform to demonstrate their interests as well as showcase their skills in marketing, publicity and editorial.
To get potential clients or useful connections to come to you, make it easy for them to find you. Use your profiles to tell people about the skills you have or what your business can offer and you can make connections with people who are interested in finding out more.
2. Lay the groundwork
If you are just starting out with online networking, it’s crucial to lay the groundwork to help people discover you. Find individuals you know in your professional circle and connect with them – whether that’s on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram. Be sure to connect with people you have worked with in the past as well. It’s not all about new connections but also maintaining the ones you already have.
People you are connecting with tend to respond better when they know they have mutual connections, or know others in the same company as you. Use this to your advantage to build your network.
After that, you can begin gradually reaching out to potential clients or new connections. You don’t have to rush this; networking online can be a steady process that coincides with your in-person networking too.
3. Online vs Offline: The same rules apply
Be friendly and genuine. You may not be able to give a good handshake online but etiquette is still important, and talking to people online should be very similar to how you would interact with someone in person.
For example, if you are messaging someone who you believe will be interested in your work, introduce yourself and your business, explain why they specifically would be interested in relation to their own work and what you can do for them. If you have mutual connections already, mention that you are in similar social circles.
4. Start small
If you’re new to online networking or you are limited on time, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be a difficult process, or one that is too complicated. You might feel pressured to start connecting on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn all at once. That’s a lot to take on, especially when you’re starting out. Try starting with one platform, like Twitter, and build from there. There is a thriving publishing community on Twitter, so it can be a great place to begin.
Once you’re ready to start expanding out to other social media channels, link them to each other and keep the imagery consistent so people can find you easily on all of them.
5. Find your niche
Social media is made up of thousands of niche ‘communities’ – people in your part of the business following others in the same or similar fields. Tap into these communities by searching hashtags and keywords, see who is following who, and you will be able to more effectively make connections with others. For example, if you are a publisher specifically looking to communicate with book designers, then this is a great way to make connections.
Connecting with those in your field and people who are interested in working with you should be an exciting process. Technological development and massive investment since the first lockdown in online conferencing, video streaming and work-from-home software has meant it is easier than ever to connect and work with others from anywhere. Connections you make now can develop into potential clients, work partners, new jobs, the perfect hire, or a way of sharing your work with others so it’s important to understand it and use it effectively.
Joseph Clark is Marketing & Design Assistant at BookMachine. Joseph is also a Photographer and Designer who has had work showcased in Glasgow, Helsinki, Paris and most recently, virtually. Currently, he is collaborating with the UCL Multimedia Anthropology Lab as well as designing a series of photobooks. @jf_clark