Authenticity and first impressions are crucial to effective networking. The Connect button makes it very simple to expand your network. But just clicking a button won’t create the network you want if you don’t make a good first digital impression. In this post, we’ll explore some simple rules to apply to your networking approach.
Create your plan for networking
Many people go into networking thinking about the outcome they hope to achieve: a new job, a mentor or a sale. But when you start with a predefined end state in mind, you miss the opportunities to build real connections. Instead, create a plan for how you will network.
- Where will you network? Diversify where you will meet connections. A mix of in-person and digital networking can diversify your network. Local networking means you will likely get to meet your connections while the others you may only follow online.
- Who would you like to meet? This could be a list of real people or a list of types of people you would like to connect with.
- How will you reach out? Your approach should be different between in-person meet-ups and online requests to connect.
- How will you respond to people who reach out to you? Networking works two ways. A good sign that your networking is fruitful is that people will start to connect with you. They may or may not have a plan. How will you know if it’s a request you will accept?
Your plan will create the roadmap for building a network.
Make an authentic introduction
When connecting over social media, make sure that you include a note when you connect. This is more likely to get you a connection and possibly a response. Are you connecting because:
- You share a connection? Mention that mutual connection.
- You read a post or heard the person speak? Write a short note about that experience and how it interested you.
Avoid notes where you are selling something or asking if they are hiring. These may be what you would like to get out of the connection, but it’s best to learn a little more about the person before being so direct. You can be perceived as pushy which reduces the chance you’re invitation will be accepted.
Want to connect virtually outside of social media? Have a mutual connection make an introduction for you. That person can send an email or invite you both to an online event. The rules of in-person networking apply here too: be prepared, professional and conversational. Make sure to find out how you can follow up with them (social media is usually the best option).
Not every contact will result in a connection and that’s ok
It can be frustrating to wait for someone to respond to your invitation but wait you must. I once had a former colleague reach out to make a connection with me. She was not someone I had known well and I got the impression that she wanted to connect with me to troll me. I didn’t respond. A few days later she sent a more direct note indicating that I owed her a response because we had been colleagues. When I didn’t reply again, she sent me a note to let me know she didn’t appreciate that I was keeping her waiting. At that point, I blocked her.
Sometimes your request won’t be answered. Just leave it and move on. Better to move on than to become a pest and never have a chance at a connection. Bad reputations, even digital ones, can follow you.
If your online connection has accepted your invitation, write a quick follow up to thank them. You can add an additional note “would you be interested in a (virtual) coffee sometime?” if you are looking to meet but see point #3, not everyone may be interested and if that’s the case, no harm. Move on.
Don’t worry about job titles
Never say no to a connection purely based on someone’s title. You never know where a connection can lead, no matter their level in an organization.
Network with others who share different ideas
I connected with a consultant once who was a delightful contrarian. I loved that his opinions, which were diplomatically expressed, were unlike those of others in our industry. I reached out to connect and he accepted. We later met for a quick virtual coffee. I told him I loved that he didn’t pretend to go with the flow and that I thought his views were helpful to me in thinking about our work.
Seek out people that are different from you in your network. They can provide perspectives that challenge your ways of thinking.
Networking can seem like a robotic, outcome-oriented activity and for some, it is. But you can make it rewarding and fun by applying some simple rules.