Networking has always been a clear path forward concerning personal growth and its purpose has not changed despite the onset of a global pandemic. What has changed is the way it should be approached and executed, by achieving long term goals that are commonly seeded in strategy and understanding the power of virtual human connection.
The past vs. the future
Investing time and money in in-person networking events, trade shows or cocktail parties aren’t currently outlined in forecasted budgeting exercises, therefore pivoting your business to embrace the evolution of virtual experiences creates a path way to support new age networking and will frame you as a resource in your community. Digital networking is the future and the benefits of face to face connection are not currently at our disposal. We are no longer able to craft an assessment based on temperament and nonverbal factors relating to a first impression, yet the value of being in front of both current and potential customers at all hours of the day has never been more attainable.
According to the (1) US Bureau of Labor Statistics: “The unemployment rate [in March 2020] increased by 0.9 percentage point to 4.4percent, the largest over-the-month increase in the rate since January 1975.The number of unemployed persons rose from 1.4 million to 7.1 million. In April, the unemployment rate increased by 10.3 percentage points to 14.7percent, the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase recorded in US history. The number of unemployed persons rose to 23.1 million.”
Due to the spike in nationwide unemployment and varying quarantine restrictions felt round the world a considerable percentage of the workforce was suddenly ingesting an extraordinary amount of digital media as a means of both emotional support and professional connection.
Short term networking goals that include getting more clients, expanding your referrals, and maximizing your opportunities for growth are one dimensional. Proactively strategizing when it comes to digital media supports long term objectives that include establishing yourselves as experts in your field while converting followers to long term consumers who provide crucial data measurable through participation. When you are viewed as an authority as opposed to an access point you create a loyal audience available for the maximization of multi-channel communications. Your brand messaging is in effect 24/7 when you are adequately utilizing e-blasts, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Zoom and others alike. The result of COVID-19 regarding digital behavior has amplified social media platforms and amassed buyer attention on an unprecedented level across Q2and Q3 of this year (1).
As reported by the (2) International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide spending on AI systems will reach $97.9billion in 2023. When small businesses can leverage social media to craft virtual brand experiences that are both educational and profitable new streams of revenue emerge. Customizing digital events through partnering with fellow experts who align well with your brand is just the beginning. Expanding your outreach and connecting with attendees provides instant feedback from a targeted audience. If the thought of going live is daunting, host a Webinar and be sure to include rich programming and content that will educate the masses and give your audience a glimpse of your expertise. Incentive led promotions that include pre-registration and contest entrance for existing followers by registering new ones gives you a starting point for collecting data in an optimal format for marketing purposes.
Embracing the advantages of social media
Not only does social media provide a living platform for your marketing efforts it simultaneously provides crucial analytics necessary for growth and expansion. Need to know how many of your current customers are shopping in which major cities? Ask them in real time. Gathering research for advertising purposes? Find out where consumers are seeing your ads in their daily lives. In times like these we are reminded of the original purpose of social media, to create human connection through shared conversation accessible to those in remote settings. Use the public portal of digital mediums to broadcast your authenticity and boost visibility while tracking your growth and detailing traffic patterns. Evaluate your performance as a tool in repositioning your self amongst the competition, increasing conversion rates and customer retention.
Redefining influence through experience
Measuring current connections & identifying new prospects allows you to maximize the benefits of networking in a digital age. Leveraging the connections you currently have expands your circle of influence and regularly exposing your brand to an engaged audience increases your effect on purchasing power. Although the industry of influence is going nowhere, it is consistently evolving. According to leading social media software company (3) Sprout Social, “the days of social as an optional marketing channel are over and usage remains mainly personal.” Campaigning is delicate and consumers are growing increasingly sensitive to product pushers. Sixty one percent claim they are more likely to take a friend’s recommendation on social media over the suggestion made by an influencer. Employee advocacy programs bring a ROI in seventy one percent of cases making it a cost-effective way to introduce influencer marketing while reinforcing authenticity. Considering that only about forty six percent of marketers are using influencer marketing, nineteen percent of which said they had the budget for an influencer program(3), using digital assets to foster a community of connection as opposed to simply promoting your products ultimately reconfigures your ROI. According to (4) Forbes, return on experience is the new ROI. Increased community engagement, quantifiable brand awareness through followers, tags and product links, and a foundation of strategy with support from omnichannel sales experiences are the future.
Transforming the benefits into business growth
Now that we’ve identified the modern scope of effective networking, explored how we can use it to our advantage, and walked through why’s of creating authentic virtual experiences, it’s time to turn that knowledge into expansion. For hungry entrepreneurs and founders of small companies, identifying the key online communities that benefit you are essential to the growth of your business. These communities make up your colleagues, customers, future customers, referrals, and other founders of small businesses. Online peer mentorship programs like FoundersNetwork are available via an approvals process where membership gives you access to a curated group of verified businesspeople who share community values and information. Useful insight is gained and the surge in exposure can yield the same results as attending all the cocktail parties throughout the year.
In conclusion, the basic skills required to execute effective networking remain the same, however it is most important to maintain concise messaging across a multitude of digital platforms and understand the complexities of using those platforms to work for you.
Elle Ferrier is a solutions driven Marketing and Communications consultant with a background in Public Relations. With over 8 years of Senior Management experience in an agency setting in New York City, she helps brands streamline their marketing initiatives and expand their footprint in the B2B market while achieving continual growth through consistent messaging.