Digital networking

Posted on 17 Oct 2016
Reader Question:

Doctor Digital, how do I make a digital network using social media, I’m always hearing about deals done and relationships built, but it feels kind of awkward!

Doctor Digital Says:

Just when many of us had barely conquered actual networking, the phenomenon of digital networking came about. On the one hand, it seemed less challenging than walking into a room full of people and hoping to give away some business cards and perhaps meet someone you actually liked. The reality? Digital networking is kind of exactly the same as face to face, without the visual cues and fortifying beverages.

So, if you accept that you have the same mission online as off, you need to prepare your digital networking charm offensive with a clear purpose. Are you seeking to build your brand through being a knowledge or thought leader? Attract new customers to your business? Build a network of likeminded professionals? The answer to these strategic questions should guide how your approach to digital networking.

Let’s say you want to attract new customers. In the digital world, you can use the search function on LinkedIn and Twitter. Start with a list of businesses or work sectorally and then drill down into the role you target. Narrow further by identifying individuals in that role who are active in social media and then reach out.

Thought leading your thing? Figure out who the influencers are in your market—the same people you would try to sit with or say hello to at a conference. Use the same technique of harvesting potential prospects via their online profiles. Once you have identified these folks, act as you would in the real world: follow them, join their conversations, engage with them, share their stuff, and acknowledge their accomplishments.

This is where the online environment is far kinder than face to face. You have time to research, watch the individuals in action, and find the perfect moment to interact with them using the language and mutual interest that will align your brand and theirs. The shortest distance between two people is a common interest. This adage holds true both on and offline, but the wonders of digital networking eliminate geography and time zone constraints.

To ensure that you also become the target for digital networking stalkers to want to connect, have a look at how you are representing yourself online. Is your LinkedIn page up to date, friendly and conversational, or is it a little like an online CV. If you are stiff, formal and uptight online, chances are you won’t be modelling the excellence you want to in attracting clients and collaborators. Look at who the major influencers in your field are, look how they make their voice and brand stand out, and give yourself a makeover. Does your Twitter profile and handle really represent your business and brand – if not, get editing.

Digital networking has the added feature of being able to sidestep the small talk if that’s not your thing. You can jump in to a strong discussion and engage, clearly displaying your brand values at work. Online networking enables you to meet people that you would not have an opportunity to engage with in real life. Experts can be more accessible online than in the real-word as the exchange is brief and it is easy to walk away.

Keep this in mind, too:  the people you meet on social media are there because they welcome interactions with others. So there’s no need to break down the barriers that may exist offline. Consider identifying a few people every month that you would like to get to know. Then use your social networks to start the relationship online.

The same rules apply to building relationships – the foundations are actually caring about what someone else has to say, respect, active listening, genuine interest and a little humour. If you simply are out to sell something, you will find that you struggle to get traction.

But what’s more important when it comes to digital networking is good old-fashioned common sense. Apply what you already know about strategic networking, relationship building, and connecting with people, clutch your mouse or trackpad confidently, and go forth and mingle.