Before the pandemic, in 2019, I would attend a networking event every other week. This process often led to new business deals, new friends, and an array of new opportunities. But when 2020 hit, my networking came to a screeching halt—and so did my business.
I had built my business on referrals, and my lead pipeline began to dry up when I could no longer attend events and network with key decision-makers. Knowing that I still needed to network to succeed, I turned to digital platforms to help me build new relationships and nurture existing ones.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “It’s all about who you know.” Networking continues to be the crucial mechanism for anyone seeking work or to build and develop their career. According to CNBC, up to 80% of jobs are filled via one’s network. It’s one of those clichés that everyone acknowledges because there is merit to the idea. That same report shows that 70% of all jobs are not publicly listed, making networking that much more important, as it can help you learn about those unlisted jobs. But how do you network during a pandemic?
Networking can be difficult during ideal situations. For many, there can be social anxieties and awkwardness to overcome. How do we come off as enthusiastic and passionate, but not too keen? For those unaccustomed, these concerns compound with the unfamiliarity of being on video.
Zoom and Google Meet are wonderful tools, but they aren’t the only ways to digitally network. I reached out to some industry experts and asked how the pandemic has affected their networking and what creative means they’ve used to overcome the networking restraints of pandemic life.
Find which social network your potential customers are using
If you’re like me, you’re using social media more than ever to keep in touch with family and friends and the world. The first step to using social media to land new business is to figure out where your potential customers are. For me, using LinkedIn can help with getting in touch with senior executives as prospects for my marketing agency. And a platform such as TikTok can be incredible for getting in touch with potential customers for my e-commerce store and to spur downloads of my music.
Akvile DeFazio, president of advertising firm Akvertise—which heavily relied on networking before the pandemic—says, “Twitter has been my primary place to network pre-COVID-19—and even more so since. It’s an excellent and effective way to find new people and reconnect with friends, colleagues, and peers.”
Of course, Twitter doesn’t replace in-person networking, but various digital platforms can offer meaningful networking opportunities. DeFazio adds, “I have been attending and speaking at virtual conferences, which have provided dedicated networking channels within the events that have filled the void.”
As with any type of networking, be willing to put yourself out there, attend virtual conferences, engage in the discussion board if they have one, let your presence be known.
Look for new platforms to spur new conversations
When the pandemic hit, it was tempting to shut things down, to feel like everything had stopped, especially for something such as networking that can feel futile when you can’t meet in person. In spite of how it might feel (and I realize that some days it can feel incredibly hard), if you’ve got the bandwidth, keep networking. New platforms such as LunchClub have popped up, and audio platforms such as Clubhouse offer help. Clubhouse is an invite-only networking app that mixes elements of conference calling and Houseparty. Through the use of Clubhouse, I’ve been able to make new friends and even spur new business opportunities. Meanwhile, according to its website, “LunchClub is an AI superconnector that makes introductions for one-on-one video meetings to advance your career.”
André Archimbaud, senior digital marketing consultant with Gannett, who relies on networking, says, “I never stopped networking throughout the pandemic, really. A prospective client told me about LunchClub, and I joined it immediately.”
Archimbaud maintains 3-5 LunchClub meetings each week: “I have had some genuine business opportunities pop up from these efforts, some pieces of closed business, and a few other things that are [in progress]. Certain verticals of clients are [not] impacted, from a business perspective, from the pandemic, so life carries on.”
Regardless of when we return to normalcy, the networking landscape has changed. Although in-person networking isn’t going anywhere, it’s important to be open to new ways of looking at how it can be done, for now and the future.
Commit to moving beyond your comfort level
Zoom fatigue is real, and some days I’d rather throw my computer out the window than have another virtual call. When I overcome this feeling and just log on, to my surprise, I feel a lot better. The dose of human connection, even over the screen, is an injection of energy. This is to say routines can be great, but they can lead to stagnancy. Instead, disrupt your habits and take on new challenges, even if they’re scary. This is especially important for those of us who are shy and more introverted.
As the marketing director for Art+Logic, J. Carlos Perez, says, “As for networking virtually, I’ve relied on forcing myself out of my shell and actively looking for situations where [I’m not] a wallflower.”
Join virtual conferences or groups encouraging or forcing engagement—push the envelope of your comfort zone. Start with platforms such as LunchClub that are 1:1 and gradually work your way up to bigger conversations such as Clubhouse.
Open up your mind to digital, for now
I know it can be hard, but networking should be fun. If you’re having fun, you’ll be able to relax and let your natural self shine through, and that person is wonderful. That’s when you find like-minded people with similar goals and passions.
Certain industries, such as music and art, run on personal connections. Many professionals have turned their in-person events digital to maintain connection. “I have actually been enjoying it, watching online gigs: the Idles, Dua Lipa, Perfume Genius, and festivals like Afro Punk and Sundance. I have really enjoyed the virtual experiences and have chatted online at all events,” says Andy Ross, music supervisor and principal at Exit Strategy Productions, a music and media company. Ross’s industry, like others, relies on networking.
So, allow yourself to keep an open mind. It’s easy to walk into virtual spaces with skepticism and an arm’s-length stance. Avoid this mindset; it can trap you into dismissing the entire experience. Decide you’re going to have fun. Being stuck at home during a pandemic doesn’t seem like the ideal scenario for networking, but if you’re willing to open yourself up, get creative, and take advantage of new digital platforms and technologies, there are plenty of options.