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Online networking is important if you want to advance in your chosen career. Online networking allows you to connect with other professionals operating in your field, find potential clients and employment opportunities, establish yourself as a thought leader in your field, and much more besides.

Building your professional network is something you should work on throughout your career. Building relationships takes time, and you want to create mutually beneficial relationships as these tend to last. In this article, you’ll learn how to grow your professional network through online networking in a few ways. 

1. Look into online networking events and trade exhibits

The online networking events and trade shows gather people with similar interests or business purposes. Taking part in such events gives you a great opportunity to network with valuable people. Since everything is happening online these days, networking events and trade shows are no different.

Crowded trade show floors are now a thing of the past, and who knows when these will come back to the same level. The great news is that you don’t have to be limited to events happening in your area. The sky’s the limit here. 

Of course, you can still search for live events close by. Live shows are slowly coming back with social distancing rules, number limitations, and other restrictions in place. You can search Facebook for upcoming industry events, and post-event invites on your Facebook page as well.

Be courageous and start conversations with strangers and people outside of your usual networking circle, whether online or in-person. Remember that you don’t just attend these events to learn new things. Getting to know new people in your field is just as important.

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Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

2. Participate in a professional organization

Professional organizations are made up of members who are part of the same industry or career field. Joining an organization in your field will provide you with valuable networking opportunities.

The list of professional organizations you can join will depend on your profession. Some organizations are restricted to professional licenses, such as the American Bar Association for lawyers or the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants for CPAs.

Some professional organizations admit non-professionals. For example, The Association of Architecture Organizations (AAO) welcomes architects, designers, curators, and members of the public who are interested in architecture through its associate membership plan: 

Benefits from being a member include invitations to events, discounted registration to the annual conference, news subscription, recognition in membership rolls, and more. Most professional organizations provide a similar range of benefits.

Some associations require monthly or yearly fees or have special requirements for new members (like having a degree in the field). 

Assuming you want to take this opportunity, research the professional organizations that are active in your sector. Learn more about them, particularly how active they are in the area where you are living. Join the organizations that appear to offer the most value.

3. Do not confine yourself to your field

Networking outside your business is also important. Having a hobby or a passion for something outside your business is good for your mental health and beneficial for your professional network.

The billionaire and founded the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, said he learned business lessons through chess. He thinks chess is the best game in the world, combining the thrill of risk-taking and strategy planning with a cup of tea and a nice chat with a friend.

Networking with those who may not work in your field but share a common passion with you is like mixing passion with business. You never know which one of your friends will end up being your next customer. 

When networking, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people will be happy to connect you to someone who can be helpful. Be sure to return favors, though. After all, we all like to believe that the world consists of friendly and caring people.

4. Set aside time for LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the largest professional social network. To give you a sense of just how important it is, 13% of the global population aged 18 and above are members of LinkedIn. 

There are a few things you should do if you want to master LinkedIn networking. First, set aside a bit of time to work on your profile. Do basic things like adding a professional profile image, filling in your employment history and educational background.

Next, set aside a few minutes each day to connect with relevant people in your sector. Looking for people in your niche and sending connection requests is a simple way to expand your network. 

You’ll also need to work on making meaningful connections. That involves doing relevant updates on LinkedIn and engaging with people when your new connections post comments and feedback. You can also create high-quality posts and articles, you can start with shorter posts and then as you learn to write better, you can opt for longer articles. 

5. Make use of alumni networks

Anyone who has ever studied anywhere is an alum. Alumni networks provide long-term value, whether formal or not, by giving alumni the chance to stay in contact and continue learning from each other long after leaving school. 

Activities vary from one alumni network to another, but many of these activities, including alumni homecomings and class reunions, have moved to online platforms. It’s now a lot easier to attend alumni events and reconnect with classmates you haven’t seen in a while. Try searching for your colleagues or dedicated groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. 

Searching for “Georgetown University alumni” on LinkedIn, for instance, will give you the following results:

The largest groups in the search results often have ties to your alma mater or its alumni association. Joining these groups online will allow you to get the latest news and connect with people you went to school with. 

Many schools host alumni networking events online. DePauw University in Indiana, for example, runs a series of events where alumni share their experiences in various industries. The university is also thoughtful enough to upload videos that teach basic crafting skills to alumni and their young children.

6. Write an effective networking email

A great way to develop a connection with professionals in your network is through email outreach. There are various ways you can use email for networking. First, and most obviously, check-in from time to time with people in your network to see how they are doing.

Maintaining relationships with people in your network is just common sense. Alongside this, try to connect with thought leaders in your field. Essentially, identify people who you would like to connect with, or you’d like to get advice from and send them an email.

You can use an email finder to get their contact information.

This approach does work. In fact, sending cold messages to potential mentors is something that people were doing in 1936 when Dale Carnegie wrote the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Try to think outside the box if you’re going to send an email to someone you don’t know. For example, you might start by introducing yourself and offering a favor to the person. That’s always a good way to leave a nice impression.

Many people won’t reply to the first email you send them. Or second, third, or even fourth! That’s why it’s crucial to write follow-up emails after no response. You can also set up recurring emails through your Gmail account to stay in touch. 

If you’re going to send multiple emails to a person, make sure you don’t annoy them. That is one of the most common email marketing mistakes- sending too many follow-up emails. For example, you might send a short message to check if they forgot about your original email. That’s fine. Sometimes people are busy and forget to answer emails.

You don’t want to leave the impression that you’re the annoying person people want to avoid.

Conclusion

Building a professional network through online networking takes time and patience. It requires relationships to develop, just like in real life. Remember to make use of the power that social media can offer. Don’t limit yourself to using LinkedIn but go for as many as you can. Join social media groups and chats dedicated to your area of interest. 

Here are some ideas on types of business networking groups to join. Invite, accept, connect, post, comment – be active in every field and enjoy it.