There’s no denying it. Networking is an important and essential part of building your business, especially for entrepreneurs. For some people, nothing excites them more, than sampling dozens of networking opportunities and Meet Up groups. For others, I included, the thought of getting out there so often feels extremely stressful. That’s why I’ve recently fallen in love with Online Networking.

The Benefits of Networking

No matter how solid your business plan is or how amazing your product is, you cannot grow your business alone. Networking allows you to get in front of different opportunities to find new clients, vendors, employees or partnerships. You can learn about new things going on in your industry. It’s also a great way for brand exposure.

Sometimes when I’m coaching clients and they are troubled by stagnation in their business, I recommend they commit to a few networking opportunities a quarter to reignite their spark. But it’s also important to have an ongoing networking strategy… and this is where anti-social entrepreneurs start getting anxious.

Woes of an Anti-Social Extrovert

According to my MBTI personality test, I am an ENTJ and an extreme extrovert at that. You would think that I would love people and networking. More recently, the thought of going to a networking event with a bunch of people I may or may not want to ever do business with in the future seems like too much work most days. As I’ve gotten older and really being a single mother, I am way more selective about the types of interactions that I have. I believe it’s important to go to a few in-person events each year, but I also believe you can meet some great business outcomes by leveraging technology and online networking.

Tips to Online Networking

I’ve developed some great business relationships through my Online Networking journey. I often build Online Networking into the Social Media Strategy plans I create for my clients. I’ve pulled together some of the tips I have for optimizing your Online Networking strategy.

Before you start online networking

Make sure you have updated your account profile with the most current and relevant information. Just like a traditional networking interaction, people will make an immediate impression of you, based on their earliest interactions.

How to get started online networking

The best place to start Online Networking is on Social Media. Specifically, Facebook and LinkedIn, by leveraging their online “Groups” feature. Both platforms have great advanced search functions, that will allow you to find the group that works the best for you. There are different privacy settings on groups, so you may need to request an invitation depending on the type of group it is. Once the moderator has approved your invite, you can start networking with the group.

Join different groups

Variety is one of the great benefits of Online Networking. You can join multiple groups and engage with different people. LinkedIn limits you to joining 100 groups at a time, while Facebook limits you to 6,000 at a time. Once you reach your limit you will have to remove yourself from a group to add more.

Finding the right group

LinkedIn and Facebook both have two different ways to find the right group(s) for you.

  1. Suggested/Recommended Groups – based on your activity and information from your profile, each of the platforms will recommend groups for you to join.
  2. Keyword Search – You can also do a keyword search for different types of groups that you believe you’d be interested in joining.

Find your customers

One thing that often happens when people when they network, is they will look for groups within their industry. These are great to have as reinforcements and keeping up with the latest news in your industry, but you should really focus on networking in groups that your customers are in.

Follow the group’s rules

It’s important to check the guidelines of the groups, to make sure you don’t offend the group’s moderators and get the boot. I would recommend scrolling through to see the type of posts and interactions the groups are getting, then post a “Welcome” post to introduce yourself to the other members of the group. If you are approved or invited by someone else, it’s always a nice touch to give them a “shout out.”

Create goals

Make sure you define some goals that you have when you’re Online Networking. You should know what type of relationships or opportunities you’re looking for as you start. Some of my favorite groups are those there for encouragement and support. I also enjoy getting into groups with influencers and subject matter experts, that often share content in the group for continued learning. Figure out your goals, before you get lost in the land of endless groups.

Deepen your Connections

Once you know the goals of your Online Networking, it’s important to start to identify and deepen some of the connections that you have. I would recommend reaching out to at least one group member per week, to find out more about them and add them to your personal network.

Eventually, you should try some more offline networking opportunities or connect with your new connections over coffee or cocktails. But Online Networking is certainly a powerful place to get started.

What are some of your favorite Online Networking groups? Feel free to drop the link in the comments!