Technology has changed the world irrevocably, and it has affected all aspects of society, from the way we do business to how we live our day-to-day lives. One facet of this is how we connect and communicate with one another. Modern tech has replaced many formerly physical and in-person experiences, and it’s now possible to meet with people remotely and even across great distances.

Naturally, this has introduced a variety of opportunities when it comes to networking, both in a business sense and with others. Networking in today’s landscape is easier than it’s ever been, thanks to platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and even online communities. Turning those online connections and interactions into meaningful relationships — which are also fruitful professionally — well, that’s a different story.

Networking is not something you can overlook, either, considering 85% of all jobs get filled through such a process. It’s something we all have to perfect if we want to find lucrative opportunities in the workforce today.

So how do you go about it? Where do you start? There’s so much to navigate in today’s digital-centric world, both online and off.

Networking in person

It’s no secret networking in person is very different from networking online. The face-to-face nature calls for observing specific standards of etiquette and mannerisms. Online, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing pajamas, if you’ve showered for the day or if you’re making eye contact. Furthermore, there’s a right and wrong way to network in person, particularly when it comes to encroaching upon private spaces and lives.

Online, for example, you can communicate or reach out to someone you meet immediately, any time of day or night. If they are not available, they will respond to the message when it’s appropriate. In person, however, you must respect people have times or locations when they do not want anyone to disturb them. Running into a prospective employer in a local coffee shop, for instance, can be hit or miss. If they’re visiting with family or friends or trying to enjoy a break from their busy schedule, they’re going to be less receptive to talking business, and may even resent you for it.

Digital has also upgraded the way in-person experiences happen, however. At trade shows and major events, businesses now generate leads and build connection in new ways. Bluetooth beacons, for instance, will send mobile alerts and notifications to people who pass by a booth or station. Companies might also merge online and offline interactions to create more meaningful experiences — for example, running a promotion that says, “Follow us on LinkedIn before the event to receive exclusive offers or freebies.”

In this way, networking at conferences or major events — even face-to-face — is different than networking in public or elsewhere. Luckily, there are a few commonalities you can consider to ensure you make a lasting impression.

Here are some tips for navigating an in-person meetup or interaction.

  1. Mind the setting: Everything discussed above relates to this first tip. Consider the environment, current time or activity, and make sure it’s appropriate to approach potential contacts.
  2. Bring business cards: Always have plenty of personal business cards or identifiers on hand. When you run into someone, it’s a quick handoff that can lead to a valid lead. Be sure to include relevant details on the card, such as a portfolio URL, email address, phone number and possibly references.
  3. Have a pitch ready: It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting in an office or running into someone in public — you must have your pitch prepared. Keep it concise, but impactful, and be sure to state the business benefits of employing you. The 60-second elevator pitch is an ideal format.
  4. Be helpful: If possible, wait for a moment where you can assist or be useful to the contact. Not only will they respond more positively to this, but they’re also more likely to remember you later, which is a bonus when you need to differentiate yourself from other candidates.
  5. Stick to events: It’s OK to approach a prospect in the wild, but doing so should be the exception more than it is the rule. When networking in person, stick to professional events and job fairs. Keep in mind, there are network events specifically for such interactions, which are also a great activity to participate in.
  6. Strike up a conversation: Don’t get too preachy, and don’t spill your pitch right away. Remember, the best way to make an impression is to strike up a meaningful conversation, which requires just as much listening as it does talking. Be sure to listen to what the rep or contact has to say, too.
  7. Always follow up: Before leaving, be sure to collect an email address or phone number you can use to follow up with the contact. Don’t just toss it to the side, either — wait a day or two and then reach out. Nurture that connection and keep it alive.
  8. Gather intel: One of the best things about interacting with people is they’re almost always willing to talk about themselves and their endeavors. You can use this to your advantage. Ask questions and inquire as to what credentials they have, how much experience they had before being hired and more. Do they enjoy their work? What are some hidden benefits they receive? You can learn valuable intel about potential positions with a company or employer you might not have gotten otherwise.
  9. Encourage lateral references: Sometimes, a contact you interact with directly may not need your services or expertise, but they are still an incredibly valuable source. Asking them to think of others who can benefit from what you have to offer, for example, is another strategy that encourages lateral networking. The contact might recommend you to a colleague, friend or even a fellow professional in the field.
  10. Be yourself: This tip is one of the broadest to throw out there, but it’s as crucial as anything else on this list. When networking in person, it’s easier to discern when someone is faking or putting on a show. Furthermore, you come off as pretentious if you’re trying to exhibit an air of superiority or exclusiveness — especially considering everyone else is likely doing the same. Remember, you must be both humble and original to make a lasting impact. The best way to achieve this is to act naturally. If the contact or employer doesn’t respond to that positively, it’s not a place you want to be working anyway.
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Armed with these tips, you should be able to leave a lasting impression on anyone you interact with, at least when it comes to meeting up in person. If you’re looking to network online, in a digital space, move on to the next section of this guide.

Networking online

Interacting socially online through digital media is infinitely simpler because you don’t have to consider many of the things you would when meeting face-to-face. How you dress, the way you look and even how you hold a gaze don’t matter as much. The same lack of rules extends to meetings via telecalls or video chats too, especially when the connection quality is low. These characteristics are less crucial than, say, proper communication.

But simpler doesn’t necessarily mean easier. Online communications provide one distinct difference in that they can record and preserve all interactions. A rep or contact can look back at a conversation any time for reference. They will continue to serve as digital legacies or footprints for decades to come.

Furthermore, the communications hold more meaning because they are the sole interaction. You’re not engaging with someone out in the world, you’re doing it online via digital mediums and channels. Personality doesn’t always translate well via these solutions, especially if the conversations are short and pointed. It brings up some valid concerns: How do you make online connections and interactions meaningful? How can you posit yourself as valuable and memorable?

Here are some tips for navigating an online or digital interaction.

  1. Connect digitally with new contacts: Cold messaging isn’t usually well-received, especially via social networks like Facebook that are primarily a place for personal connections. However, after you interact with a new contact, it’s always a good idea to connect with them digitally. Send an email or response, seek them out on LinkedIn or message them on Twitter. Doing this helps demonstrate your interest in making a connection, but also enables you to stay relevant to the contact in question.
  2. Honor the “always on” approach: Networking in the digital age has changed drastically in that there’s less happening in person and more taking place online, via digital platforms. Just like in the real world, you never know when you’re going to come across a meaningful or helpful contact. The best way to avoid missed opportunities is to stay “always on” — in other words, never stop networking. Treat every interaction is a potential opportunity.
  3. Be creative: From webinars to online coaching sessions, there is an endless stream of opportunity in the digital world. Don’t be afraid to network during these events or moments. It’s more likely you’ll engage with a contact who can help you professionally. Think of it like running into a potential contact while at the gym or local coffee shop, except all your interactions are online. You’re already attending these events and activities, so learn to use them to your advantage.
  4. Find a community: The beauty of digital platforms is that there are hundreds — if not thousands — of various online communities. Join the groups that are most relevant to you and stay active, participating openly to build new connections. Online forums, Reddit, social network groups — these are all potentially lucrative channels if you remain active.
  5. Craft your online presence: Resumes are different in the digital world. Yes, you’ll still be handing over a digital document and cover letter, but there’s so much more than can bolster your reputation. Crafting an online portfolio or personal website, getting your details ironed out in Google search results, maintaining your LinkedIn profile — these are just a couple of useful examples. Be sure to refine your online presence, so when potential contacts do look you up, what they find makes a positive impression.
  6. Take connections offline: One of the best things about networking online is that relationships and communications don’t have to stay that way, and in most cases, they shouldn’t anyway. Learn to bridge the offline and online worlds by preparing face-to-face meetups or appointments. You don’t always have to facilitate this yourself, either. Many online groups and communities organize real-world meetups, which are a reliably excellent opportunity to build stronger relationships with online contacts.
  7. Get involved: Online is an excellent place to read and discuss content, find new topics and niches, engage with others and generally get more involved socially. You can network more naturally by commenting on blog posts and articles, conversing with others in forums or sharing content on your social feeds.
  8. Become an influencer: “Influencer” is a relatively new term that refers to prominent online and media-based personalities. Of late, it refers to self-made celebrities on platforms like YouTube or Instagram. The reality, however, is that anyone can be an influencer online if they are providing value to others. Start a blog, publish videos, post updates about your professional journey, give online advice. With more eyes on you, it means more possibilities for meaningful connections.
  9. It’s a two-way street: Not everything will consist of you reaching out to others. Sometimes, things will be the other way around. Before dismissing contacts who reach out or want to network, understand these interactions are always ways to build valuable connections. A rep might reach out to you asking to share a press release or talk about a specific brand on your personal blog. It’s easy to dismiss these interactions when they provide no short-term value, but the key is that they may be hiding more. That’s not to say you should bite on every opportunity that comes your way. Some are less lucrative than others. Just be open to that two-way street.
  10. Set boundaries: Understand not every connection is valuable, and that online, there can be a lot of noise distracting you from the essential channels. Learn to set boundaries for yourself early on. It’s easy, for example, to go on LinkedIn and start immediately following tons of contacts that seem relevant. But this is like having thousands and thousands of friends on Facebook — it clouds your timeline in the end and makes it harder to find the relevant connections and contacts.
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Navigating the online world is different than meeting up with others in person in the real world, sure, but there are still many parallels. Socially, you still need to learn to set boundaries for yourself and others. You also need to home in on the real value of each connection or interaction, meaning what is going to provide the most return for you. Following the tips above will, at the very least, help you tread water when it comes to online networking.

Networking is still networking

In the end, while networking in today’s digital landscape is a whole new world in many ways, a lot of the same principles from conventional relationships still apply. The most significant factor is that in-person and face-to-face networking still matters, despite how many online opportunities and channels exist. It’s as crucial as ever to build those human connections, if only to accelerate exposure.

You could argue online interactions are still about building that human connection, albeit through remote platforms. A lot of online and telecommute positions, for instance, still require a face-to-face meetup via conferencing platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts.

The good news is that many of the guidelines discussed here will help navigate this new, digital-centric world, whether you’re trying to build connections online or off.

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