VIRTUAL NETWORKING DURING COVID AND BEYOND
By Lorrie Walker
I read Christina Ingrassia’s recent article on tips for building a killer network and as an EMERGE Lakeland alumna, jumped at the opportunity to add my two cents on virtual networking during a pandemic.
I am a financial advisor in Lakeland who landed on virtual networking in June 2020 after it became apparent that all my favorite ways of meeting prospective clients – in-person networking events, coffee meetups, drinks after work and lunch outings – were gone and not returning any time soon.
Virtual networking on LinkedIn got me through the pandemic. I started new relationships, cultivated existing ones, and picked up clients along the way. It’s a tool I’ll keeping using as the country gradually reopens. You can, too. Here are some best practices to consider:
THINK OF VIRTUAL NETWORKING AS A LONG GAME
We do business with people we know, like and trust. Those things take time to build. It’s likely to take longer to reach the “know, like, trust” stage via social media than when networking in person. That’s OK. You may need that relationship today, but will you need it any less tomorrow? Next month? Next year? Don’t rush the relationship. Let it build organically.
AUTHENTICITY > AUTOMATION
Don’t do on social media what you wouldn’t do in person. Few things turn my eyes into coin slots faster than impersonal, automated messages from strangers who’ve made no effort to get to know me, let alone determine whether their product is something I want.
You wouldn’t approach a stranger at an in-person networking event and blurt, “Buy my stuff!” But people do it all the time on social media and expect a positive result.
I know tools that help you filter “real estate agents within 25 miles of me” so you can send a mass message sound like a time-saving way to reach hundreds of people with the click of a button. But how many thousands of people must you contact to get a few good leads? How many real estate agents did you thoroughly irk in the process?
I have found that reaching out individually to existing connections has led to more meaningful conversations. That leads to better relationships. I believe those relationships pave the way to eventually converting some of those connections to clients. You cannot automate authenticity, so stop trying.
CONNECT WITH A MESSAGE
When you find someone you want to connect with on LinkedIn, include a message with that request that explains WHY. It’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself and it helps the recipient understand that there’s a human behind the request.
Do you have a friend who already knows the person with whom you’d like to connect? Request a virtual introduction.
FIND WAYS TO HELP
We often only think about what’s in it for us when we use LinkedIn and other social media platforms. We need more business, and we look at our connections in terms of who’s most likely to give it to us. It’s time to flip that. Ask yourself how you might be helpful to your connections.
Last year when 28,000 Disney employees were laid off, I thought about what a challenge job hunting must be when so many people are pursuing the same pool of job openings. Prior to coming to Allen & Company, I worked in journalism and public relations. I maintain connections in those fields, so I reached out to former Disney cast members – particularly those working in marketing/PR/content development – and asked how I could assist in their job search. I reviewed resumes, made introductions, and shared links to job postings, several of which led to interviews and job offers. It felt great to be helpful.
You know what? A couple of those people became clients.
DIG THE WELL BEFORE YOU’RE THIRSTY
This is one of my favorite sayings from one of my favorite podcasters, Jordan Harbinger. Don’t wait until you need something from someone before you reach out to them. It’s just gross – for you and them.
Friends tends to be far more helpful than strangers, so put in the work now to cultivate those relationships. When the time comes for you to ask a favor, you’ll feel less icky because you’re asking a friend.
Lorrie is a Florida native who moved to Lakeland in 1999. She came to Allen & Company in 2019 after spending more than two decades as a journalist and public relations professional, including nearly 12 years as the owner of a public relations firm. She served in the U.S. Army, and holds a bachelor’s degree in business and professional leadership from Southeastern University.