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Building Real Relationships Through Virtual Networking

May 14 , 2020

LinkedIn app displayed on a phone.

While remote work is being encouraged or required right now due to the risk of spreading COVID-19, opportunities for networking are naturally more limited. Industry conferences that would normally yield rich in-person networking opportunities are being canceled or going virtual, and it's frowned upon in most places to meet up for coffee or lunch with someone outside your immediate family.

The only way to effectively network right now is online, but building real relationships in the virtual world seems so much more difficult than it is in person. With a little targeted effort, however, it can happen. 

Be Social on Social Media 

Building relationships online starts with social media. Instead of just posting dog pics or a snippet about how your day went, it's time to get intentional about using LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other platform you regularly visit for the purpose of virtual relationship-building. 

Career expert William Aruda says it's important to brand your social media bios, especially on LinkedIn, to create interest in your story and who you are. Rather than being purely professional, Aruda says you should use the first three sentences of the bio - the only part people see unless they click - to inject personality and make people want to read the rest. 

But you can't expect people to reach out to you all the time. Instead, you have to initiate conversations both through the social pages themselves and through messaging. These efforts can help take the relationship to a deeper level than the usual offhand comment or one-time conversation. 

Woman with several friend pictures around her.

Identify Contacts and Reach Out to Them

Duke University marketing professor Dorie Clark advises identifying five to ten people you would like to network with and learn about them online. What platform do they use most often? What are their likes and dislikes? What do they do in the real world?  

The trick to getting past the "Hi, how are you" phase is to reach out proactively and seek common ground. Without going on forever about your hobby or social cause, it is possible to mention them and see if you get a response. Starting conversations based on professional interests and weaving in other topics is probably the most effective way to get to know people virtually. 

Eventually, relationships will develop, but it will take time. It's always good if you have something to offer, whether it's an interesting article link or a tip about a job opening. Taking someone's survey and then retweeting it or making a minimal donation to a charity they support are other ways to show that you are interested in a person - the online equivalent of showing up with lunch or a treat for your co-workers. 

Over time as virtual relationships develop, opportunities may result because of the trust you've been able to build online. With more and more jobs being conducted completely on a remote basis, there's no telling where you may end up working, at least as far as the company headquarters goes. 

GDH offers job seekers the chance to connect with companies looking for talent through its own talent network, which has always been online.