Let’s face it – networking is a PAIN in the best of times and when it comes to virtual networking – it’s even more painful. Yet, some people have more talent to make it work than others. What are their secrets? What are the “hacks” to make virtual networking more palatable?
Generally, the reason we look to networking is to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. This means joining a group you feel connected with, and that you feel can help you move forward in your skills and shared stories. Because we all know the benefits of building connections
The good news is that joining a network is literally only a few clicks away. The bad news is that just as with networking live, there is some effort required to keep the connection alive.
What kind of virtual network group should you join?
This is a big question. There are SO many groups out there, covering many niches. Everything from personal interest items such as crocheting to grilling to professional interest items like Project Managers to Accountants. No stone left unturned. For this post, I’m going to focus on LinkedIn and finding and sustaining a network connection.
First is to find a LinkedIn group you can connect with, both professionally and philosophically. I’m not going to join a learning technologies group that is focused on LMS building, because 1) It’s not my thang and 2) I don’t always agree with the concept of having an LMS in place. So, this group would not be of benefit to me, nor would my contributions benefit them. Being part of a group is a give and take relationship.
So, what did I find in LinkedIn?
11,703 different groups dedicated to Training and Development
814 groups dedicated to Neuroscience
634 groups for Creative Writing
392 groups supporting Instructional Design
314 groups hosting Emotional Intelligence
Which group is right for you?
Okay, you’ve found the type of group that is interesting to you. Out of the 11,000 T&D groups, how do you know which one is right for you? Most importantly, do you know your “why”? Why are you searching for a group? What are you hoping to achieve? What do you see as the main benefit?
- Looking to upskill?
- Meet new people?
- Find a new gig?
- Test out new ideas?
- Looking keep your curiosity at a peak?
- Want to improve your creative outputs?
Keep in mind: Groups that may be the most valuable to you are those related to your job role, your location, and shared values. If you can find a group that hits this trifecta you’re most likely going to get the most value for your time. For example, I found a Chicago-based “Training and Development Group” and it’s probably worth checking out.
You’re in a group, now what?
We all know the conventional tips, but they bear repeating. If you keep the following three steps in mind, you will conquer LinkedIn groups. Not only LinkedIn groups, but any other professional virtual networking space you are a part of, be they a Facebook Group, a formal Network, a casual enterprise network etc.
Step 1: Engage
Garbage in, garbage out. You cannot join a group and wait for people to notice you. You HAVE to jump in. I know it’s scary, it’s like being the first person to talk at a cocktail party. Eventually, someone has to speak up, it might as well be you. Share your story and your why. Here are some tips to help you engage:
- Find a post of interest and contribute or acknowledge.
- Find a post that is a question. If you have some insight or a resource to share, do so.
- Don’t just “like” a post. Respond! Either share insight, ask for clarification or applaud their thought. People who give, get.
- If you see someone from a similar industry/location, say hello
Keep in mind – People are a part of this group for the same reasons you are. They like what they do, they are looking for help, or looking to talk to people outside of their organization. You are not alone in your quest to find a special group of people.
Step 2: Post/Share
This is beyond engagement. You are starting the conversation! Be brave!
- Post a question
- Share a resource
- Share a best practice or tip
- Ask for a best practice or tip
- Acknowledge people who respond to your posts. Say “Thank you”!
Keep in mind – Know the goals of the group. Are they critical thinkers looking for debate? Are they newbies looking for advice and guidance? Do they have guidelines as to the different types of resources that can be posted? Be sure to read “About this group” for guidance.
Step 3: Connect
If you notice a person who is in the same location or posts something that is of greater interest to you, or perhaps you share the same values, reach out and connect. When you ask for the connection, keep in mind the 3 P’s:
Personal: Who you are, and where you know them – Hi Bob, this is Shannon from the Chicago Training and Development Group.
Purpose: Why a connection would be of benefit – I read your post about “Why T&D has a role in diversity initiatives”. I found it hugely relevant to the work I’m doing as part of XYZ company in downtown Chicago, and I was hoping we can connect.
Process: Propose next steps – I had some questions about your third point in the article, would you mind having a deeper discussion?
Keep in mind – As being a part of a Linkedin group, you can message people directly. I recommend reaching out and connecting first to be sure they are open to a direct conversation. There is A LOT of spamming happening, so you don’t want the recipient to think you are trying to sell them something when all you are looking for is a new connection to share deeper discussions.
Bonus Step: Schedule your Activities
As I stated in the opening of this post, some people are better at this whole virtual networking thing than others. The difference? They make a plan to network. I can go DAYS without thinking about connecting with my network peeps. This is a BAD thing, people. We get bogged down in work, we stress about projects, and we get buried in email or Zoom calls. These are excuses, and not necessarily good ones. You have to hold yourself accountable for reaching out, or else you lose touch.
Mark your calendars: Set up a reoccurring meeting to check in with your favorite groups or social accounts.
Ask Alexa or Google to remind you: Ask Google to remind you at 4:30 pm each day to check your LinkedIn or Facebook group. If you are a part of multiple groups, set a reminder to reach out to one group a day.
Use Feedly to curate articles of interest. You can send articles to Feedly that would be of value to your instructional design group, then when Alexa reminds you to check LinkedIn you have something to share. You’ll feel more confident about checking in if you are armed with a reason to be there.
To wrap this up:
Here is my main point, it’s all up to you. You cannot depend on people to drag you into conversations. You must take ownership of your virtual networking techniques and connections. It really is about nurturing. How you interact, how much time you spend in your group, and how you choose to discover information is what adds value. Networks die because of neglect, don’t send yours to an early graveyard.