Online networking has its place, and no one can deny that tweets, emails, and social media can build relationships. Relationships started online can be weak though, and sometimes too short-term to be of any use. Think back to the day before computing, when networking was done face to face and built long-term and strong connections.
This hasn’t changed … we just aren’t doing it as much. For those introverts, such as myself, it’s painful, it’s awkward, and I still do it. If you want deeper connections and networking that will help you long-term, here are five strategies you can put in place.
1. Get Yourself Offline
This doesn’t mean completely unplug, it just means get out there. You shouldn’t stop commenting and liking Facebook posts and you should still keep up with your LinkedIn profile, but you should also be getting out of the house or office, and attending events.
Instead of relying on social media and online networking you should be living a life outside of the office, even if it’s going to the gym or spending time at the local coffee shop. Ideally, you’d be attending professional networking events and industry seminars, but any time you spend away from work is time spent building a personal network (and practicing your social skills).
Social media is great for making new contacts, but it gives a certain amount of false confidence in regards to how many useful connections you have. Even instant messaging within an office can mean that you haven’t physically spoken to anyone all day, and emails aren’t always the best way to get to know people. It’s doesn’t really matter what you’re trying to do or what opportunities you’re looking for — dealing with people on the phone or in person will always get you further.
2. Re-enforce Your Connections
How many times have you messaged someone and suggested meeting for lunch? How many times have you actually followed through? Meeting new contacts over Facebook or Twitter is great, especially if they live near you, but when you suggest meeting up with them at some point, you need to follow through with it.
Within a few weeks or a month, reach out to people again and initiate a conversation. It doesn’t matter if you need something from them or not, the action of reaching out to them will build up your relationship. You can certainly gain from reaching out to them online, but in order to go the next step you really need to get face to face. If you live too far away then remember, you can get face time via video calling or speak to them over the phone.
3. Treat Your Networking Like Any Other Meeting
If you decide that you’re going to see your contact once a month for lunch then make sure you actually do it. If you think that a coffee every two weeks and a phone call every month is more realistic, then suggest that instead. It doesn’t matter what you decide on, but once it’s decided you have to stick to it. Be realistic and don’t try to overbook yourself. We’re all busy, and we’re all pressed for time, but it’s good to build relationships when you’re not desperate for them. Check in with contacts, call up old employers, call up old co-workers — reach out.
4. Set Time Limits
The more time you spend online reading blogs and surfing Facebook, the less time you have to meet up with contacts face to face. Don’t completely ignore social media, but be aware of how much time can be lost when you start looking at things online. Set a time of day that you’ll check your social media and give yourself a time limit. Go in, do what you need to do, and get out of there quickly. Half an hour isn’t bad, but hours on end is damaging to your efficiency.
5. Take Stock of Your Relationships
Pay attention to what’s happening on your social media. If you’re constantly interacting with someone on your Twitter feed or commenting on someone’s posts, think about why you’re not interacting more with that person. You shouldn’t stop engaging online to start engaging offline, but try and do both. Send them a text message or give them a call. Try to connect. If you can meet up in person that’s great, if not, a 10 minute phone or Skype call can go a long way. As an added bonus, this is a great way for a virtual assistant to break up their day.
Study your online relationships and try to work out what kind of contact you have with people, and how much you know about them. Just because you know someone’s online behaviors doesn’t mean that you’d know them if they were sitting next to you at a bar. How much do you know about these people? If you don’t know that much about them, then how do you expect to tap into their own network?
You don’t have to reach out to every single person on your networks, just choose a few and start from there. People may be looking at your social media profiles and making judgments, but you will also be judged on how you act in person at a job interview or event. Many employers care about team fit, not what’s on your resume. It’s important to have good profiles and good branding, but when people meet you, they have to be able to feel like they can connect with you as well.
About Out of the Office Virtual Assistance:
At Out of the Office, we offer ideas and ways to increase your productivity, decrease your workload, and work more efficiently. We nurture a successful business relationship, while continuing to grow as your business partner. We are focused on streamlining your administration, social media planning and execution, and offering creative solutions for your business success.
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