How To Network While Social Distancing
With conferences canceled, offices closed and people around the world working remotely, it might seem like networking can’t take place. It can feel uncomfortable or insensitive to reach out when you don’t know what someone is dealing with personally and professionally, but being social while social distancing can help people feel supported.
People often associate networking with small talk, elevator pitches and stacks of business cards. But the key to successful networking is to get to know people, have genuine conversations and provide value. You could learn about a job opening, get career advice, find a mentor or meet a future coworker or colleague and vice versa. Take this time to use technology to foster community and reframe networking by leading with how you can help.
Think of ways you can support people
“Rather than wondering about what you should be posting online or how often, focus exclusively on how you can be of service during this unprecedented time. Being of service can be as simple as retweeting the link to a friend's online webinar or participating in their weekly Twitter chat or joining the book club they've moved to Instagram Live. Watch and see what the needs are of others,” says Kelly Hoey, a networking expert and author of “Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World.”
Make authentic connections by using your expertise to create value for other people. Share your skills with your community. You could teach someone how to use Zoom, FaceTime, Slack and other tools for staying connected or share industry-specific advice like personal finance, mental health or marketing tips. “When we are responsive to the immediate needs of others in our network, it is far more likely that they will be there for us in our time of need. So lend others a hand (or tweet) right now,” Hoey says.
Reach out just to let someone know you are thinking of them. “This is the time to use LinkedIn to thank your internship boss; to find your first-grade teacher on Facebook and tell them the impact you made; to use their customer service email to send a note to your favorite restaurant telling them you can't wait for them to re-open,” says Molly Beck the founder of podcast creation site Messy.fm and the author of “Reach Out: The Simple Strategy You Need to Expand Your Network and Increase Your Influence.”
Use technology to stay connected and grow your network
“I’ve spent more time on Zoom and FaceTime than I have in the past year. Get dates on the calendar and plan virtual workouts, walks, happy hours and dinners,” says Emily Merrell, a business coach and founder of the networking organization Six Degrees Society. “Now is the time to take inventory of who you really want to be connected to and reach out,” she says. Merrell recommends expanding your network by joining Facebook Groups that match your interests and posting about ways you can help the community. “If you want to help, learn or connect there is a community for you. If for whatever reason you don’t have a group that speaks to you, create your own,” Merrell says.
Tailor your asks and outreach
Social media is a highlight reel, it doesn’t tell the full story about how a person and their loved ones are feeling physically and emotionally. “Remember behind every avatar and profile picture, is a real person with a host of stresses and demands upon them, which they may not be openly sharing in their Facebook feed or Instagram posts. Don't add to their frustration and risk severing a connection with outrageous asks or tone-deaf outreach,” says Hoey. If you reach out, ask how they are doing and lead the conversation with ways you can help them.
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