The concept of networking is not new whether you are into business, social work, politics or even sports. You need to know people. Everything works on connections. And networking, whether online or off-line is not just about knowing people and dropping names, it is about recommendations, references and access to people who can make a difference in your life.
Although everybody talks about the benefits of online networking it is one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish, especially when you need to start from scratch. Approaching people, especially when you’re not used to, and more so when you don’t know many people, can be one of the toughest jobs in the world. How do you approach people? How are they going to react? What first impressions are you going to make? Will they think you are just being a pile on?
The problem is that you cannot function in isolation. This is more so on the Internet. If your business mostly involves interacting with local people then things are quite easy. All you have to do is be visible in the neighbourhood, go out, talk to people, mingle with them and participate in social activities, and most of your networking is done.
When it comes to online networking the physical element is missing. You might be interacting with people from all over the globe and unless you have loads of money you cannot travel everywhere and meet people. So what do you do? How do you initiate your online networking effort? Here are a few things you can do:
Understand the objective of your online networking endeavour
Why do you want to network with people? Is it just for work or you really enjoy meeting new people, helping people and asking for help? What benefit are you going to accrue on personal as well as business level by knowing more and more people?
Remember that business opportunity is just a byproduct of networking, it is not a direct result of it. Because you move in certain circles and are known among certain people some business opportunities may come your way, but there is no guarantee. So don’t think of networking as an all-encompassing solution. By the end of the day you have to perform. You have to become a person people would like to be friends with. You will need to add value to the network. And this is the moot point – what value you bring. How you can influence the people who come to know you?
Consider online networking a long-term exercise
Friendships don’t happen, they are formed. Formation always takes time although on rarest of rare occasions they happen fast. Just because you want to network with people it doesn’t mean that they also want to network with you or have similar interests. It may take months or even a few years before people start responding favourably to your messages and interludes. Whatever medium you’re using, people are going to take their good time to respond. So be prepared for that.
Be prepared to excel in your field
Nobody likes to network with someone who doesn’t deliver what he or she preaches or promises. People don’t necessarily prefer successful people, but they certainly prefer people who are hard-working, creative and perseverant. Networking just for the sake of spreading your influence rarely works. You need to excel in your field in order to become more approachable.
Become active on social networking and social media websites
Online networking is not as difficult as it used to be a few years ago. You can easily set up an account (if you haven’t already done so) on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter and start following conversations in your niche. You will need to follow people that you would eventually like to know. Highly networked people can give a big boost to your networking efforts once you start interacting with them on a regular basis. Regularity and meaningfulness are the keys here. Respond to their questions and queries. Engage with them without flooding their timelines. Share with them useful information. All in all, become active on social networking and social media websites in a productive manner.
Maintain a blog
A blog is a great way of communicating your ideas and opinions and you will come in contact with many people who start visiting your blog. When you publish a blog regularly gradually you become an authority in your field and people begin to respect you. Influential people (most of the influential people blog these days) start linking to you from their own blog posts and articles, increasing your circle of influence as a result. Remember that it may take lots of time so don’t be in a hurry or in a state of impatience. Be prepared to publish high-quality content for a very long time without eliciting a response. This is normal and it happens with every person who is starting from scratch. Once you stick to quality and regularity, things magically begin to happen. Again, this is natural.
Visit blogs of other people and leave comments there
Good comments are always appreciated because they add value to the ongoing discussion. Many people mistakenly leave comments to earn back links but this is not a good strategy. Leave a comment when you really have to say something and you believe that your comment is going to present a unique perspective. The more interesting your comment is the greater is the chance that it will be appreciated by people.
Attend workshops and conferences
This can be costly and time-consuming but this is the best way of networking with people as professionals from your related industry will be there. These events are the places where new partnerships and friendships are struck and networking ties are strengthened. Keep a tab on various events happening in the circles of your profession and make sure whenever you can attend these events and if possible present a paper or a note.
So these are a few things you can do to start your online networking from scratch. Again, this is not something you can put on a fast track. Networking is something that goes on for months and years and in fact it is not a separate activity. It should be an integral part of your business and personal pursuits.