The New World of Networking

By Diane Devaney, founder and president, Devaney & Associates

Social media and online networks like LinkedIn allow people across the globe to connect, creating a new world of networking. But do you know how to navigate it effectively?

Networking works. No one disputes the value of an array of strong connections for any business person. But knowing how to network in a world where connections may be online or in person has become a challenge. Some people ignore online networks, claiming that nothing can replace an in person relationship. Others rely on them totally, claiming that in today’s digital world you can create deep, meaningful relationships with someone you’ve never met IRL (“in real life” for those who don’t like internet acronyms). Both points of view are correct, but the trick to successful networking is knowing how to blend them.

The good news: As long as you have a solid understanding of your business strategy, you can reasonably expect to be able to find the right places to network successfully. The bad news: It’s going to take more time and effort because you need to blend in person and online efforts.

Let’s look at the good news first – you can evaluate networking options, especially online groups, fairly quickly by comparing the audience and purpose of each to your business’s audience and strategy. If your company works with professionals over age 35, you probably don’t need to be using Snapchat as a social networking tool, for example. And attending a new professionals mixer or joining a new professionals LinkedIn group is not likely to be effective. You need to be where people who can benefit from your connections and expertise can be found, and you need focus on providing information and connections, not on looking for sales prospects.

Now for the bad news – be prepared to spend more of your time than ever on networking. Not only do you need to attend actual live events, you need to not just monitor but contribute to those online networks you identify. This means you have to be active in real life groups and associations and online. You need to share information and provide value to your contacts. In person this will likely mean sharing referrals and information on the local business climate. Online this will mean sharing relevant articles and information on your field and contributing ideas of your own.

All of this takes time and effort. The really good news is that, especially for online efforts, you don’t have to go it alone. You can and should ask for help in finding good material to share or even in creating content – as long as you are engaged in the process and own what is posted it’s always acceptable to have someone else assist you to provide the greatest value. Full disclosure – to more effectively use my time, I got help from our agency’s people in turning my ideas for this post into a fully realized finished piece.

The most important thing is to make sure that your networking efforts are genuine, add value for your contacts and reflect you and your business with integrity. You don’t have to do everything, and you don’t have to do anything without help, but you do need to be strategic about what you do and be committed to adding real value for the people you meet. Do that, and the time you spend networking will always be worth it.