Growing your network online

Published on
April 20, 2021
Time to read: 
A willow branch with about 20 yellow and silver coloured buds open and growing on the left side in sharp focus. On the right other branches are visible. The background is more trees and branches, with dead leaves covering the ground.
I decided to use a photo of willow branches bursting into life, with a bee nestled in the branches on the right, to symbolize growing networks. Just like the willow, your network needs time and nurturing to grow. The bee, which I didn't notice until after taking the picture, represents hidden treasures in your network.

Many people imagine that the only way to grow your network is to go to events and exchange business cards. While this might have been true in the past, technology now offers dozens of ways to meet and connect with people from literally around the world.

Since I started my business in 2012, I’ve met and worked with many people who I’ve never met in real life (IRL). We “meet” by phone, video and email.

For example, in 2014 as I was researching a project for another client, I came across a company now called Indigenous Link. I’ve been developing and delivering training for Indigenous Link ever since.  Among other things, they’re great marketers, they find me audiences from across Canada. I get to concentrate on doing what I enjoy most, sharing information through online webinars to help people achieve their goals. I’ve only met one of the Indigenous Link team IRL, he joined the team after me!

In the last year, meeting people online has become even more important. I’ve met and connected with people from around the world. Several have become valued professional contacts.

Many people use social media platforms to grow their networks online. The four applications (apps) I’d like to tell you about are the ones I’m most familiar with: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I use each of these apps for a different reason.

LinkedIn: for professional networking and learning, and for getting the word out about issues I care about, including my business!

Facebook: for friends, the occasional post about my business, and networking with like minded entrepreneurs and other groups in a more informal way.

Instagram: for connecting with people in a very informal way, while still being professional. This platform is new to me, I resisted joining for years, because I’m not a visual thinker. I originally joined to follow entrepreneurs who I wanted to support, then I realized you can microblog on Instagram!

Twitter: for micro learning opportunities, particularly for learning from people whose lived experiences are vastly different than mine.

A great place to get a lead on people you’d like to network with is to attend free online learning sessions. Many people will share their full name, and some even share their social media handles in the chat. If you meet people whose comments resonate with you during these trainings, jot down their names (carefully copying the spelling) and any other identifying comments, like where they live or work. Then look for them on LinkedIn or your preferred social media app.

Caution: Do not use information gained during an online learning session, or found on a social media app for dating. There are dating apps for that! As a middle-aged woman who’s been happily married for more than 20 years, I find it really irritating when people try to connect with me romantically on social media. Seriously, stay in your lane.

Here’s a story about appropriate networking from the shared experience of an online learning session, using social media. I recently moderated a morning of online learning for one of my professional associations, HRPA. During the breakout sessions I met and learned from others who were attending.  As I was writing this post, I remembered that I meant to connect with these people.

I skipped over to LinkedIn, found everyone who'd shared their full name, and sent them personalized connection requests.  The personalized messages reminded them where we met and included something about the experience. Before I finished writing the first had already accepted my request. Within 24 hours of sending the invitations, all had connected.

We all voluntarily decided to invest our time in the webinar, we met for 10-15 minutes through Zoom audio in breakout rooms, and now we’re connected. This is potentially the start of long-standing professional relationships.

To get a free copy of my eBook “Networking: Identifying and Connecting with Friendly Forces”, use the sign-up form below.