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4 Secrets to effective online networking

In most industries, career preparation includes some common elements. Students across nearly every field of study are accustomed to hearing about the importance of gaining internships or practicum experiences, creating an eye-catching resume and sharpening their interview skills.

One particularly vital aspect of preparing for your professional future is networking, which begins before the job search and can carry on throughout your career. The benefits networking can offer are numerous. In fact, one LinkedIn survey found that 80 percent of working professionals consider networking to be an important factor in career success.

Today’s digital age means that this can now be done from just about anywhere. Face-to-face meetings are great, but there are still plenty of ways to be effective in your online networking efforts.

4 Important online networking tips

It’s true that in-person networking can offer certain things online networking can’t, but the latter also has its own advantages. In a digital realm, you have all the information you could want at your fingertips. You can be sure you’re pointed in the right direction from the start by researching everything you can about your intended career path. This can make it easier to identify companies that align with your interests.

From there, you can begin introducing yourself to people who are involved with those organizations. Remember, the ultimate goal of networking is to forge connections that can help in your professional development and career advancement. As you get started, keep these four things in mind:

1. Rethink your target demographic

When networking online, especially when you’re just starting out, it’s helpful to remember that seniority isn’t the only thing that matters. Your instinct may be to try connecting with the high-level executives at your target organizations, but it’s often more effective to build relationships to those who you consider to be your peers.

You’re also much more likely to get a response if you aim beyond the C-suite demographic. Evidence suggests that VPs and C-level professionals are the least likely to respond to people they don’t already know. Meanwhile, people earlier in their careers respond most often. Think of this as an opportunity to get your foot in the door, and then you can grow your network from there.

That said, you don’t have to entirely give up on reaching more senior executives. It may just require a different approach. Try to identify connections through your college’s alumni network. University of Massachusetts Global, for instance, has an online program that matches users with graduates and faculty based on factors like industry, area of study or even whether they’re first-generation students.

2. Cater your communication for digital conversations

Communicating online is inevitably different than chatting in person. This means you should take extra care as you craft messages to networking contacts. For starters, you can never underestimate the importance of proofreading.

Some potential employers will view typos as a sign that you lack true interest in a position with the organization or that you lack attention to detail. Taking a little extra time to double-check your spelling and grammar before hitting “send” can go a long way.

It’s also important to communicate in a way that will be well-received in a digital format. This means you’ll want to keep your messages fairly short. For some, long messages can be an instant turn-off. Keep it easy to read and understand. It’s also smart to maintain an air of professionalism by avoiding use of common internet slang or emojis.

Finally, it helps to be deliberate about what you’re saying and clear about what you might be asking for. A lot of the nuance we’re accustomed to with face-to-face conversation is lost when communicating online, so take extra care to be sure you’re conveying the right tone.

3. Work to establish an authentic connection

In the same way many of us are quick to ignore a call from an unknown number, it’s not uncommon for people to let messages or emails from strangers go unanswered. Popping into someone’s inbox out of nowhere can, at times, trigger a negative response.

One way you can combat this is to establish some shared interests. Perhaps you have similar educational backgrounds, you share passions about certain causes, both of you are part of the same public groups or there’s something else you align on. Finding some common ground can help the connection feel more genuine. If your school offers an online alumni networking program, this will likely come easier.
It’s also helpful to communicate how you might be able to add value to the people and organizations you’re reaching out to. Some business experts view this as the golden rule of networking — you can’t just be in it for yourself.

If your ultimate goal is to solicit guidance or assistance from a new networking contact, start by demonstrating what you can do to help them in return. Even small gestures like social sharing, commenting online, endorsing on LinkedIn or including their insights in your publications can plant the seeds for productive give-and-take relationships.

4. Stay positive

Lastly, remember that patience will be critical as you try your hand at online networking. Virtual interactions don’t happen at the same pace as in-person ones do. Simply put, not everyone is online all the time. It’s a good rule of thumb to give your contacts two or three days to reply before reaching out again to follow up.

If you find you’re not making as many connections as you’d hoped, do your best to stay optimistic. You may not get many bites when you first begin messaging, but that’s because building authentic relationships in a digital environment can take time.

With endeavors like this, you’re often playing the long game. You’re ultimately looking to assemble a network of like-minded professionals who can help guide you in your career pursuits and come to view you as a thought leader in your industry. As long as you remain active on your social platforms by posting content your desired network can interact with, you’ll be able to watch your professional community slowly expand.

You can start by sharing a variety of content that’s relevant to your industry — everything from articles and white papers to surveys and how-to videos. Keep an eye out for what type of material gets the most engagement, and incorporate that insight as you plan what to share with your professional network moving forward.

Set yourself up for online networking success

As you begin to venture into the online networking world, consider our four secrets for success: rethink your target demographic, adjust your communication style, make genuine connections and remain persistent in your efforts. Soon, you’ll likely begin seeing your online network grow.

To establish your online presence even further, it can help to put some concerted effort into establishing your personal brand. Visit our infographic to learn how building a personal brand online can help advance your career.



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