When our face-to-face networking events became Zoom calls, several networking organizations had a coaching strategy for members. It was to reach out across geographic boundaries to join meetings they wouldn’t normally attend. And to connect with people they wouldn’t normally meet. They created a fine line that they had to ensure they didn’t cross, which was how to network virtually without spamming.
With so many people working from home these days there really is no reason for us to remain within our geographic area when it comes to networking, and I have had some global calls that have been quite enlightening and productive.
But our new virtual world has also unleashed an army of networking spammers. You know the folks I mean. It’s that person you don’t know who asks to connect with you on LinkedIn and as soon as you accept the connection they immediately try to sell you something. Or it’s that person from across the globe who suddenly emails you under the pretense of a 1-1 but when you check out their website you just know that what they really want is for you to send some work their way as a subcontractor, so you might pretend not to have seen the email for a while. (Maybe that’s just me?) Or one of the latest tricks I’ve seen is someone figuring out my WhatsApp and texting to tell me about their services, without even getting to know me first.
Some have yet to learn how to network virtually
I don’t know about you, but despite not spending time in traffic or waiting in a lobby for anyone like I used to, I am 10 times busier than ever. I don’t know if it’s because suddenly every small business owner around feels a need to improve their digital presence and needs help, or maybe my productivity has tanked.
Whatever it is, I am in front of my computer from morning until night and I consider my time to be valuable. I will always make time for a legitimate networking opportunity and truly enjoy spending time getting to know new people, or to deepen relationships with my current business connections. After all, that is a key factor in why my business has grown so much. But I’m honestly done with the networking spammers.
This got me thinking more about how we should network virtually in our digital world. And honestly, it’s no different than how we should be prospecting. Both are a lot like dating. Imagine you’re a single guy or gal, or maybe you really are, and you’d like to be in a relationship. You’ve already figured out that sitting at home on a Friday night watching Netflix with a tub of Haagen Daaz isn’t going to get you there.
Now in the old days when you actually cared how you looked when you went outside because you weren’t covering your face with a mask, you might think about going to a club. For all of you gentlemen, granted this is a bit of a double standard, but if you’re a guy in a club and you walk up to a girl you don’t know and propose marriage, chances are she’ll either laugh it off because she knows you’re not serious, or else throw a drink in your face because she thinks you’re a jerk.
Either way, she isn’t about to say yes. Why? Because you went for the close too soon. You guys know what we ladies like. Buy us a drink, ask us to dance, sit at the bar and talk a bit. And if all goes well, at the end of the night we might give you our number so we can meet again. But we’re sure as heck not walking down the aisle on meeting number two either. You need to get to know us first. Sure you may need to test us a bit to see if we’re ready to say yes, but be prepared to invest some time so we know we’re not just a number.
That guy who barged into my LinkedIn was proposing business marriage, when I was only ready for a dance and a drink. To him, I was just a number, and that offends me.
What’s the proper way to go about it?
So how do you network virtually without being a spammer? Here are some tips:
- Start by making yourself look as attractive as possible. I don’t mean get a haircut because most of us are probably long overdue for that. I do mean make your profile look as good as possible. On LinkedIn you will need a nice headshot that doesn’t look like it was cropped out of a wedding photo. You’ll need a nice banner that at a glance visually displays what you do for a living, or perhaps a picture of you speaking publicly if that’s your thing. Your description should be written in the first person and provide a nice introduction that tells people why you would be a good person for them to get to know. And you’ll want to get some testimonials from clients and colleagues, and upload media such as videos and articles you’ve written. Each social media platform has its nuances but your strategy for making yourself look good on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is somewhat similar. Be visual and sound compelling. This is the equivalent of putting your best face forward when you’re heading out to the club.
- Connect online with people you already know. The more of your friends and colleagues you connect with, the more of their network will be exposed to your beautiful profile. This is like going to the club with a couple of friends. It’s more comfortable. Oh and each time you meet someone new in real life, ask to connect with them online.
- Join some groups. This should also be easy. Look for groups where your referral partners and target clients are members. On LinkedIn you can use the advanced search function to come up with some good ones. This will also expose your beautiful profile to others.
- Now you’ll start to see invitations to connect. Some of these come from the algorithm and some are from people actually finding you. Your rule of thumb here is that if you’d exchange business cards in a live event, go ahead and connect. If they’re annoying and try to close too fast, just tell them no. And remember folks, even in the world of virtual networking, no means no! But it’s easy to drop them if they don’t listen.
- And now you dance. You dance by writing great articles and publishing insightful posts. Or by commenting on other people’s great articles and insightful posts. You don’t sell. Or push. You simply share. In the club, it’s the group of people laughing, talking, dancing and interacting who seem the most interesting. Definitely not the weird dude in the corner who looks like he’s ready to pounce.
Make sure you go about it the right way
And that, my friends, is how to network virtually without spamming. Because isn’t that what you would do if you weren’t in front of your computer? Personally, one of my best clients found me because I showed up in his LinkedIn search. And I’ve had several other clients find me on social media as well. I know this stuff works because I’ve seen it first hand. Just remember to start by putting your best face forward, and dance.