The Ultimate Guide to Networking in The Digital Age for Small Businesses
Networking is simply interacting with other people to develop professional connections.
In many ways, the internet makes building connections and networking easier than ever. With a click of a button, you can send a message to a contact in another country or have a video call with hundreds of attendees. There’s an audience of billions at your fingertips, which seems like it would make networking easier. But instead, it often makes making meaningful business connections a little more challenging.
In this article, we’re sharing the steps you need to network online like a pro. Plus, we’ll share additional tips for leveling up your online networking to ensure your results are worth the effort.
The Basic Steps for Networking Online
So, how can you network for yourself and your business online? These simple steps should get you started.
Create a Strong Digital Presence for Your Business.
Before you start putting the pedal to the metal with your networking efforts, you need to establish a strong digital footprint. No one wants to interact with a business that doesn’t have an online presence.
Thankfully, creating a digital footprint is relatively straightforward. Here are a few steps you should take:
- Build a website for your business.
- Set up social media accounts for your business.
- Claim and create your Google My Business profile.
Taking time to do these few simple steps will go a long way toward establishing your credibility for future connections.
Find Your Social Media Network (and Work It).
It seems like new social media networks are popping up every day. However, despite what you’ve been told, you don’t have to be active on every one of them to be successful. In fact, you’re much better off choosing one network to really dominate rather than trying to succeed at all of them.
Each network offers its own strengths and caters to different demographics. For example, TikTok is the best place to reach generation Z, while Facebook is the best place to interact with older demographics.
However, by and large, the best network for professional networking is LinkedIn. With 875 million users, LinkedIn is designed to be a place to network with other professionals. It’s excellent for B2B leads, too. So, if you’re looking for connections or B2B leads, LinkedIn is the place to be.
Join Groups and Forums (and Be an Active Participant).
In addition to posting on your social media pages, take time to join online groups and forums. Facebook and LinkedIn both have thousands of active groups, separated by interests and niches. Reddit and Discord also have thousands of active communities.
Find groups where you can participate and contribute and become an active contributor. Post conversation starters, comment on peoples’ posts, and find ways to engage inside the group meaningfully. With time, you can build some terrific contacts with this method alone.
Attend Online Webinars and Events Inside (and Outside) Your Niche.
Webinars and online events are the new in-person conferences. As a result, you should make an effort to attend them as often as possible. Not sure where to find online events? Follow industry leaders in your niche and attend their webinars and events or visit places like Eventbrite for a list of online events.
When you attend online events, be sure to participate in the comment section or questions and answer portion. Webinars and events won’t do you any good if you don’t participate!
Attract Connections with Your Content.
Sometimes the best way to network is to attract people to you and inspire them to interact. You can do this by creating compelling content. From blogs and videos to webinars and social posts, create content that makes others want to reach out to you.
Showing up online with interesting or engaging content lets people know you’re worth connecting with. So, take some time to find your ideal content medium and start creating. Then, leave your DMs open and be receptive to starting conversations.
Don’t Forgo In-Person Opportunities
Okay, this one isn’t an online tip, but even though online networking is vital, you shouldn’t forego in-person networking opportunities. Some examples of ways to network in person include:
- Attending industry conferences
- Handing out business cards
- Going to community events
- Joining MeetUp and going to some local, relevant meetups
- And More
Look for ways to engage in person, and get comfortable starting up quick conversations with strangers. You never know who might be the connection you’ve been waiting for.
Tips for Better Online Networking
Once you’ve got the basics down, there are several things you can do to level up your networking efforts and get better results.
Set Concrete Goals.
Everything is more successful with clear, attainable objectives. Online networking is no different. Set yourself up for success by setting concrete goals. For example, you might aim to meet one new business connection per week or start five conversations each month. Do whatever makes sense for you, but put it in writing and hold yourself to it.
Network With People as a Person.
Too many businesses make the mistake of using their business pages on social media to connect with people. Here’s the thing, you need the business pages. They have a role to play. However, when trying to build connections with people, show up as a person. People connect with other people – not faceless brands.
Focus On Quality Vs. Quantity
There’s a marketing method called “Spray and Pray,” and it’s when you send (aka spray) a generic message to as many people as possible and pray someone responds. You have to pray for responses because this method isn’t great for getting replies. Instead, take time to be thoughtful with your outreach and personalize messages. When it comes to networking, quality is better than quantity every day.
Cut The Fluff When Possible.
Have you ever had someone cold message you on social media with a wall of text? It was off-putting, right? The reality is that people don’t want long, meandering messages from people they don’t know. So, whether you’re sending a cold DM to a potential prospect or posting on social media, cut out the fluff and get to the point.
Prioritize Sincerity and Authenticity.
In a world of internet scammers and influencers, research shows that audiences are becoming more attracted to people and brands who are sincere and authentic. In fact, 90% of social media users say authenticity determines which brands they will support. So, don’t fake it until you make it. Instead, show up as yourself and wait for your people to find you.
Everyone has their own complex lives and careers. As a result, most people don’t have much free time to network. That’s why doing favors for people goes a long way. It shows you’re serious about developing a connection and genuinely value the person.
Some favors you can easily do online include:
- Like and comment on posts.
- Share posts from people in your niche.
- Offer introductions to your connections.
- Feature people on blogs, webinars, social posts, etc.
Get creative! However, if you’re going to incorporate favors into your networking strategy, be sure to have a giver’s heart. In other words, don’t expect anything in return. Do the favors because you like helping others and celebrate when people return them.
When someone does something for you, thank them for it. Whether they attended an event you hosted or commented a thoughtful reply on a post, take time to thank them for interacting with you. Shoot them a quick email or social message, or send them a thank-you card via snail mail to really stand out.
Start Networking Online to Supercharge Your Small Business’s Success
Remember, networking is just making connections with people. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Everyone online is just another person, so interact with them the same way you would offline. Be courteous and patient. Don’t be overbearing or demanding. In time, your efforts will pay off.
Follow the steps and tips above, and you’ll be well ahead of the average small business owner trying to network online. It takes time, but with genuine outreach and follow-up, you can build a healthy contact book of business connections, including new customers, in no time.