digital ageThese days, just about everything is done online—people work online, find jobs via the Internet and even interview online. But when it comes to networking in the digital age, it can be tricky. After all, personal interaction is key to great networking. But there are some ways to network successfully online.

Tami Lust, tech expert and co-founder/president of Iwilla Remedy, finds she actually does a better job networking online. “I think I am a better networker via social media because I have time think about the conversation and respond authentically. In person, particularly at networking events, connecting with someone feels rushed,” she points out.  

There are many benefits to networking online. “The obvious benefit is that you can reach and update your whole network at once. It is also great for making connections between people within your network. I always find it surprising how many of my friends are acquainted in one way or another with each other. These connections give you common ground with someone, further building your relationship with them,” says Lust.

Laurie Anne Bariola, owner of SocialDzine, LLC says one of the pluses of digital networking is the broad audience it presents you with. “Social networking can provide you with more opportunities than face-to-face but should never replace it. Social networking provides you with the opportunity to connect with a much greater audience and allows you to see if the other person is someone who can improve your company or vice versa,” she notes.

Social media gives you the opportunity to have better success at “cold calling”—dealing with people you have never met. “Use social media as a method of connecting with individuals you have not met. Exchange contact information (use Direct Messages on Twitter and messages on Facebook for privacy), reference common contacts, get introduced, mentioning something in common, or re-connect with individuals you’ve met in person,” offers Rebecca Otis, Content/Social Media Manager for digital marketing company Digital Third Coast. “And, social media can also be used as a conduit to in-person networking and relationship building.”

Another benefit is that you can keep a record of your entire conversation. “There is an instantaneous ability to connect, share information, and keeping track of things. Also, between Gmail and Linkedin, the history of our connections is almost entirely documented. I can look back in my Gmail and see a conversation I had at any time, and exactly what was said. This, of course, can’t be done in person,” digital marketing & social media strategist Brad Hines of BradfordHines.com & YumDomains.com, points out.
 
How to Network Via Social Media

1)     Act ASAP.  One of the perks of social media is the immediate contact you can have with someone else. So use this to your advantage. “I reach out to people as soon as I think about them – just to check in and say hello,” says Lust.  

2)     The fast pitch.  Keep it short when reaching out to someone for the first time. “Utilizing your elevator speech when introducing yourself through a social network can work just as effectively and you have the opportunity to add a link to your blog, website or other networks that gives that person more vital information when making that connection,” says Bariola.

3)     Connect on a personal level. Don’t just reach out to get something from the other person. Offer something as well. “I share information, whether articles, videos or quotes with people by tagging them if I think it is something they’d find cool or interesting,” suggests Lust.  

4)     Get to know the person.  Before you ask for a favor, for a meeting, try and develop a relationship. “Build a relationship before asking for something. Mention an article someone wrote, how you discovered their profile or company, comment on one of their projects or articles, or mention something in common,” says Otis.

5)     Keep it casual. Social media is just that—social. “Don’t take it too seriously. It is supposed to be fun and light,” reminds Lust.

6)     Make use of your online connections.  Through the various social media networks, you have great resources just a keystroke away. So ask for referrals. “Referrals are a great way to increase your network, boost sales and show others appreciation that will reward you later on down the road. Referrals are pushed quite extensively in the face-to-face networking world and work just as well online,” says Bariola.

7)     Hashtag it.  Hashtags help you form “groups” based on the hashtag subjects. This can help you connect with people with like minds and interests. “Using the @ and # to mention and thank new connections for the connection and any referrals you may receive from them in the future on networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It exposes you to their connections allowing other people the opportunity to connect with you,” advises Bariola.

8)     Collaborate. Once you have established a relationship online, look for opportunities for you to collaborate with your new connections.  “Just as you would when networking in person, find a mutual benefit for both people. If you’re reaching out to someone you’ve never met, find a way to work together to achieve mutual goals or each party’s goals,” says Otis.

9)     Hit your target.  Don’t join online groups or networks that will not get you to the people you need to know for your career. Know where your audience spends time. “If your audience participates in LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups, find the right ones and get involved. For B2B in particular, I recommend a concentrated focus where your audience is rather than waste time and resources by covering many social networks,” says brand strategist Gina Rau.

10) Use virtual networking to do “real” networking.  Person-to-person networking can solidify your business contacts. Use digital age networking to arrange to meet in person. “The non-digital form of networking–meeting face to face– is a much richer experience than online. It’s more meaningful, memorable, and the communication is much clearer given the visual facial expressions and tonality of our voice, and body language as well,” says Hines.

Adds Rau, “Marry offline and online. If you’re actively attending events or conferences in your industry, follow up online to grow your social networks. It’s far easier to keep the conversations going, connect and make introductions online, especially if you’ve already met ‘in real life’.  Leverage those in-person opportunities.”