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How Much of Your Networking Should Be Done Online?

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by Robin Madell

The new rules of professional networking have become murky now that much of our connecting happens via electronic devices. Should you channel most of your networking efforts into social media? Are face-to-face meetings still essential for networking success? What’s the right ratio of live networking versus online networking?

Unfortunately, no single “formula” guarantees the perfect blend of offline and online networking. But some guidelines can help maximize your efforts. The decision about how much time to spend on the digital side of the networking equation may vary depending on:

  • Your job search/career goals
  • Your proximity to (and/or travel budget to attend) industry events
  • Hours available for networking

Let’s say you’re looking for a new position. LinkedIn can help you target the exact contacts you need at specific companies faster and easier than in-person networking events. It can also widen the pool of potential people who might help you reach your goal. When conducting a job search, therefore, you might want to shift the balance of your efforts toward online networking.

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However, keep in mind that while you may not reach as many people by attending a networking session, making just one key connection at an event could open the door to a new opportunity much more effectively than countless random reach-outs on social media. Yet time or budget may prevent you from attending conferences and conventions, particularly if you don’t happen to live in the city where they occur. That’s why taking a dual-pronged approach to networking is critical for success.

Here are two strategies to help you incorporate actual “meeting and greeting” with virtual forms of networking:

Embrace the overlap

Do you always favor a certain networking style, excluding other possibilities? Maybe you’re a Twitter fan and love building your network there, but you shy away from conferences and brown-bag events where you could meet others in your area of expertise.

You can cast a wider net of opportunities by being open to multiple options and overlapping them. There’s no need to limit yourself, and you can take advantage of different benefits when you try new strategies. If you primarily leverage in-person networking, mix things up to include online efforts and vice versa. Once you’ve opened yourself up to whichever type of networking that you’re avoiding, the following strategy will help you take it to the next level.

Use “circular networking”

Regardless of how you’re initially introduced to someone—whether on screen or in the room—you can leverage the multiple options of networking available to keep the conversation going. For example, if someone in your industry connects with you on Facebook, you might suggest meeting for coffee to explore collaboration opportunities in more detail. After the initial meeting, hop back online to continue the dialogue with your new contact.

By leveraging this “circular” style of networking, you can devote around half of your networking time to live meet-ups and half to online communication, pivoting between them to stay connected. This hybrid approach to networking is what’s needed today to cover all of your bases. By allotting a reasonable portion of your networking hours to both in-person and digital networking, you’ll be well positioned to reach your career goals.

Main image credit: Flickr user Rachel.Adams (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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