In our current international business environment, most executives have colleagues and clients across the globe, which means the days of limiting your networking to local business events is a thing of the past. To build and maintain your professional network, it’s important to take a strategic virtual approach.
As an executive, you know that having a captivating LinkedIn profile and continually building and staying active with your LinkedIn connections are vital aspects of virtual networking. But there is more to virtual networking then just maintaining your LinkedIn profile.
The key to virtual networking is to identify a select number of people you don’t know well or at all, but with whom you would benefit knowing professionally. Keep in mind, these should be attainable contacts. If you are a CIO, it’s unlikely you will be able to virtually meet and stay in touch with Bill Gates.
In addition, set your targeted virtual contacts to a reasonable number so you will remember specifics about the person and be able to sustain a virtual relationship with him/her. Make the initial connection, then keep in touch regularly by commenting on the person’s professional updates, perhaps offering assistance, and sharing interesting industry-related news or insights.
The best way to make that initial connection with someone virtually is to find something you have in common. People aren’t impressed and don’t remember the person who sent them the standardized invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Virtual contacts will remember you if you share information and your point of view on a topic of mutual interest or comment on their own contributions or achievements.
Here are some strategies to make those initial virtual connections:
- Identify a Slack Channel, Twitter Chat or Google Hangout where others in your industry gather to discuss current trends or issues. Identify the ones which will be useful to build your network, plan to join a session, and be engaged in the conversation. These are great ways to discover networking contacts that you may not have previously identified. Additional online networking groups to investigate include: Meet-up, Ryze, or Business Networking International.
- Once you’ve identified a potential contact, reach out and indicate how you became familiar with them and state you admire their industry reputation/experience or whatever is noteworthy. From there, make sure to engage in a collaborative conversation by asking a question, seeking advice or acknowledging one of their recent professional accomplishments.
- LinkedIn is the obvious choice for connecting with professionals. Also, follow industry leaders on ProductHunt, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and comment on their posts or updates. You can expect them to notice you and follow you back. Now that you are acquainted, be proactive in building that relationship, you can send a relevant article or blog post with a personalized note or flatter him/her by asking them for guidance or an opinion. Be careful, however, to be sensitive to their time and only ask questions in which they can provide a quick response.
Finally, when it comes to virtual networking, the key is visibility and consistency. As appropriate, look for opportunities to engage with your virtual contacts. This could include retweeting their posts, answering a question they may ask on a professional platform, or sharing a thoughtful response to one of their updates.
Think long-term and strive to engage in some small way every few weeks. The goal is to make your name familiar to them so that when the moment is right you can meet them in person at a conference or other professional event or when you will be in the same area. After you meet someone in person, you can use social media to keep the connection alive. Virtual networking will never replace connecting in person, but it enables you to build and maintain relationships with key contacts around the world.