Networking. The mere word conjures up discomfort: There you are, making forced small talk with complete strangers while balancing cube-shaped cheese or veggies and a pool of dip on a plastic plate. But networking isn't just an activity you do over cocktails and canapés, with conversations centered around safe topics like the weather or what you find most "rewarding" about your job. Nor does it require coffee or sitting awkwardly through yet another "informational interview."
Networking is simply any act that builds strong personal connections with other people. And it's an essential activity—a necessary evil, some may say—for advancing your career or, if you're an entrepreneur, for securing new business and meeting investors. Since it's a human-focused undertaking, you're actually networking every time you interact with another person—or at least you can be.
Each tap, tweet, post, message, and comment is the chance to make a connection—therefore, it's networking. That means that in the space of an ordinary workday, you have plenty of opportunities to network in a multitude of micro-ways, hold the micro-cheese. Here are a few of them.
Come what may of other communication tools, email isn't going anywhere soon. According to a recent Radicati report, the average number of business emails sent and received per user each day totaled 122. And that figure is set to grow; by 2019, researchers estimate, we’ll be trading 126 emails a day.
So rather than groaning about the state of your inbox, consider the 122 networking opportunities you have each time you hit "send." Set up an email signature line if you don't have one, and take a fresh look at it if you do. Do recipients know not only how to reach you (off email) but also what they should be seeking you out for when they do?
Does your signature line appear at the bottom of each email sent, or do you have to remember to drop it in each time? Send yourself an email and consider how it looks from the perspective of a recipient. Would you like to talk to that person on the basis of the signature line alone? If not, change it.
You may have a polished, professional, up-to-date profile on LinkedIn, but that only tells part of your career story. To use LinkedIn to its fullest, you can't just treat it as a directory. You have to share updates pretty regularly in order to tell connections what’s on your mind, whether it's your point of view on some industry news story or just congratulating a colleague on a business win.
You can break out of your own immediate professional sphere, too. Consider sharing updates on a nonprofit cause you care about; many business connections deepen around shared charitable interests, not just professional ones.
And yes, updates are a chance to toot your own business horn—but just as the best networking isn't all "me me me," you should also use updates to cross-sell your colleagues’ talents or promote the services of vendors you trust. (Just remember that LinkedIn is still a business platform, so keep your LOLs and selfies for other social networking sites.)
Okay, maybe you aren't exactly invited to speak or receive an award on a daily basis, but the further you go in your career, the more often these opportunities may crop up. As they do, you'll need to craft custom bios that are tailored to each one. And as counterintuitive as it sounds, even if you're the main-stage attraction, the bio you submit should be all about the audience, not about you: Who are they? Why do they care about what you have to say or what you've accomplished? How can you draft your bio to connect with them more meaningfully?
The bio you submit won't just appear in a program handout, it's also likely to be posted on the event or organization’s website, included in online marketing materials and even a press release (where others will readily find it with a quick Google search). So take the time to craft a targeted bio each time you're asked for one. Use the opportunity to not only just tell them what you’ve done in the past, but also to show them what they should be seeking from you in the future.
Whether someone chooses to buy your product or service may come down to how you network your FAQs. Even an instruction manual can be the deciding factor for future purchases:
To be fair, as an individual professional, you aren't singlehandedly building and selling cars, but if you're a consultant or independent worker, chances are you have an FAQ page on your website. Pay attention to it. Even if you're an employee in a traditional business, chances are you've been called on at some point to train a new hire. Any guides or resources you draw up in the process are direct proof of your knowledge base and communication skills—and in one sense, of your networking prowess.
Just like good dinner conversation, all of these resources should guide and engage, leaving the inquirer better informed and, hopefully, impressed by your expertise.
Have a look at the photo you're using on networking sites—not just on LinkedIn and Twitter, but also Facebook, Google+, and even Instagram and Snapchat. The standard "shoulders suit and tie" portrait could be as unapproachable as the "candidly caught lounging on the sofa" selfie.
Does your photo show who you really are? Does it convey your personality? It's 2017, but so many people's headshots on even the most well-established platforms still aren't formatted properly—they're sized wrong and wind up pixellated, cropped, or stretched awkwardly. This doesn't just look unprofessional, it's bad networking.
Keep in mind, too, that there's no hard and fast rule as to whether you should use an identical photo on each site versus changing it up depending on the social platform. It depends on how (and how much) you use each one. But whatever you do, your image should fit the type of networking scenario you're looking to create in a given digital space.
The bottom line is that you should put as much care and consistency into these routine activities as you would a formal business event. You can network in more ways and places (and often more effectively) than you might think.
J. Kelly Hoey is a speaker, investor, and author whose latest book is Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World.