Successful Networking – The Secret Ingredient
Once upon a time, successful networking consisted of a handshake, a conversation over a cup of coffee, and an exchange of business cards. Dialogue regarding mutual interests and concerns would dominate the meeting, culminating in a future discussion, a sale, or a proposed collaboration. Flash forward to present-day, and networking has become an online and virtual version of the coffee-shop meeting.
What has not changed is the main purpose of networking; to connect and engage with your audience. Whether it is one person across the table from you, or the hundreds of followers on your Instagram account, your goal is to make meaningful connections with long-lasting effects. “Successful networking is about building relationships”. So how can you connect, engage and build a relationship with your audience?
It’s Not About You:
“If you want to be successful at networking, you must keep in mind that it really isn’t about you”. It is about your audience; what matters to them and what issues or challenges they are experiencing that you can solve. “Your current or future customer is not interested in your product, they are interested in solving a problem or challenge”.
To connect and engage with your audience, you need to put you, your story, and your product or service aside. It is time to listen to your audience; get to know them, what they need, and what motivates them. It is not that your story is unimportant, “your story absolutely matters, but only to the extent that it helps people tell the story they want to tell about themselves”.
By focusing on your audience, you can match parts of you, your story and your product or service, to their needs. This type of networking can create authentic engagement. When your connections are based on an intention to solve a problem, you can present rather than push your product or service.
The content you create for your audience, whether it is an Instagram post or a blog, should be about them. How can you consistently create content that matters to your customers? Try educating them; solve a problem they are experiencing. “They will look at you as the subject matter expert”. This builds awareness of your brand and increases traffic to your website.
The Secret Ingredient:
Networking successfully, is dependent on your ability to create content that matters to your customers. Only by striking the right chord will you be able to make beautiful music together. So, what is the secret ingredient to creating a connection with your customers? Empathy. Once again, it is an opportunity for you to be authentic. Empathy is “not about pretending to feel something. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, by connecting with their point of view, thoughts, or feelings”.
It helps you to get to know your customer better and to understand what their needs are. It also helps you to create content that resonates with your audience. Luckily, empathy is a skill that anyone can learn, simply by reading fiction. Novels, regardless of the genre, teach you how to inhabit a character’s mind. This boosts your ability to feel empathy for your audience, and will translate into better content, connections, and engagement.
Many businesses today use social media platforms to network. In fact, creating engagement on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn has become its own marketing and networking strategy. The key word is engagement; “64% of business owners believe increasing social media engagement is critical to their social media marketing strategy”.
Engagement translates into visibility of your posts, a boost in your credibility, and connecting with your customers. Comparing it to the coffee-shop meeting, social media engagement is akin to the human head-tilt. Your customer is attentive and listening; they are “liking”, sharing, commenting, and clicking on links.
To promote this engagement, you need to create content that not only connects with your audience, but that does so in a unique voice. You need to find a way to “establish your business as an industry leader”, while standing apart from other companies. Writing a blog enables you to dive into a sub-topic and is “one of the most effective ways to build brand awareness, while providing relevant and useful content to your target audience”. While 82% of businesses believe blogging is critical, the key is consistency.
This is true across all social media platforms. To network successfully online, you need to be consistent in your approach. Write and post blogs on a reliable schedule. Post on Facebook and Instagram daily; your audience wants to see who you are and what you are doing.
This builds brand credibility as well as curiosity about your products and services. LinkedIn provides another opportunity to consistently share relevant content, and to engage with your audience. Regardless of the platform, engagement is key. Respond to comments and interact with other users.
The Virtual Coffee Shop:
Virtual meetings, without or without coffee, offer a fantastic opportunity for successful networking. Video calls allow you and your customer to see each other, just as you would in-person. Body language and facial expressions “make it easier to establish a connection and be authentic – especially with someone new”.
Location becomes a non-factor, enabling you to connect and engage with anyone, anywhere. And just like arriving a few minutes early to the coffee shop, you should give yourself a few extra minutes to prepare for your virtual meeting. “You want to check to make sure your technology is working smoothly so that you can be at ease during the call”. Planning and being prepared is after all, part of being a professional.
Successful networking is about connecting, engaging, and building relationships with your customers. Whether that is through a blog, an Instagram post, or a virtual meeting, the result is awareness of your brand and traffic to your website.
Even without a handshake, a connection can be established.