New Networking During Lockdown: Strategies for the Age of Zoom and LinkedIn

23 Jun 2020 By: Dan Kenitz


Emerson once said that a person can’t stand in the same river twice. Not only does the water move and change the river, but the person will change, too.

The same will apply to the post-COVID world.

What comes next? We don’t know exactly. But we do know that things won’t be the same. Anyone who’s been in business long enough knows that some cultural changes aren’t fads, even if the initial cause that preceded them fades away. There were times when the Internet was seen as a novelty, too. A gimmick. A trick.

Until it stuck.

We may eventually get back to normal when it comes to social distancing. But many of us will realize that there are good things about social distancing and remote work. And these changes will affect us whether we like it or not.

That will impact your ability to network. With that in mind, let’s explore some networking ideas that you may want to hold onto even after the pandemic’s been contained:

Use the Time as a Reminder to Give, Not to Focus on Receiving

We know. It sounds like a Christmas special.

“‘Tis the season for giving, not receiving.”

But if you only try “networking” so you can get something out of it, you’re going to notice people reacting like this…

How many of us get into “networking” because it’s just some typical, run-of-the-mill advice that’s supposed to bring us better jobs, more clients, and more riches?

In the real world, that’s not how networking works. If you want to use networking to get rich, maybe you should play the lottery instead.

It’s hard to go around with your hand out and expect that people will gladly give up their time and energy so that you can have more. Instead, use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to get back to basics. Remember that networking is like the holidays: it’s the giving, not the receiving, that brings the best results.

For example, freelance writer Danny Margulies often recommends that instead of spamming potential leads, businesses should focus on a few key things:

  • Personalization. How can you tailor your message to the person receiving it? We recently posted 83 specific tools for better personalization in your marketing. But even beyond that, you should bring a personal element every time you reach out to someone. Otherwise it will feel like spam.
  • Giving out the “sample.” Margulies achieved success in finding clients because he uses his proposals to focus on their needs. He focuses on what he can do to help. In other words, he takes time out of his day, without the promise of reward, to create something of value for the client. Giving. Not receiving.

This is the best way to conduct outreach online. It doesn’t matter which medium you choose. If you make a habit of being personal and giving with your outreach, then people won’t perceive it as “spamming.”

When you network, be as useful as possible. That will never change, pandemic or no.

Become a Better Follower Before You Become a Better Leader

People who network often want to see themselves in a leadership role. These days, anyone telling you how to network during the COVID-19 pandemic will tell you the same. Be a thought leader. Lead a webinar. Create something original.

That’s all well and good. In fact, it can even be great advice. But there’s another aspect to networking that you shouldn’t ignore during the pandemic, either: being a valuable follower.

These days, people are always looking to reach people with wide social media influence. “Networking” has become synonymous with trying to catch the “big fish,” the people who will share your message with a zillion followers on Twitter.

The catch?

Everyone else is trying to do that, too. You’re just another fish in the school:

Don’t get us wrong. Influencer marketing is a real thing. It’s often very effective. But that’s marketing. It’s not networking.

That said, it’s still a nice goal to network with influential people. How can you do it without coming across as spammy?

  • Follow them for a while before interacting. Get a sense for the kind of content they like to engage with online. This way, whenever you do reach out to them, it won’t come across as random spam.
  • Create a Twitter “radar” list so you can get a sense of what these influencers think about. In addition to following, you can use a Twitter list to periodically check in with influencers. You may even occasionally reach out to them and respond to their messages, but without asking for something in return.
  • Create your original content, but give credit to the expert. Experts and influencers are often happy to see that their content is being shared. You can create content inspired by the influencer and—after hitting “publish”—send it to them to see if they have an opinion. Don’t even ask for a share.

Finally, after you have a sense of what the influencer usually responds to, you can mention it when you attempt to contact them. You might reach out to them to share a link you thought they would enjoy, for example. It might not even be your link. But as you establish yourself as a credible follower, you may eventually be able to network with them on a more personal level. You’ve put in far too much work for it to be considered “spam.”

Stop Spamming On LinkedIn

Yeah, everyone knows that LinkedIn is a great place to meet other professionals. It’s “Facebook for professionals.” Tons of business owners and people in your field are right there, just waiting to be connected with.

The problem? Everyone else knows it, too.

That’s why spam has become a real problem on LinkedIn.

John Biggs wrote a piece at TechCrunch called LinkedIn sucks:

I hate LinkedIn . I open it out of habit and accept everyone who adds me because I don’t know why I wouldn’t. There is no clear benefit to the social network. I’ve never met a recruiter on there. I’ve never gotten a job. The only messages I get are spam from offshore dev teams and crypto announcements.

Yikes. The problem is so bad that people are even scamming others on LinkedIn, using phishing schemes to get people to click on links that inevitably contain malware.

But given the lockdown, LinkedIn has to be a valid alternative for networking, right? Sure. But only if you do it the right way:

  • Change your communication preferences. Want to stop experiencing spam yourself? Click on Settings & Privacy -> Communications tab -> Who can reach you. Here you’ll find options for changing who can invite you to connect, choose what kinds of invitations you receive from your network, or only allow select people to message you.
  • Don’t copy/paste messages with new contacts. It’s easy to tell when someone copies and pastes a message. Even if you take the time to paste their name into it, the rest of the content will read like fluff. It just will. There’s no getting around it. So don’t do it! These days, people receive enough “fluff” on LinkedIn that they’ll know it when they see it. Why bother? Copying/pasting LinkedIn messages isn’t worth the work you save.
  • Mention a personal connection. If you’re adding someone on LinkedIn, reach out to them with a message and mention why you’re reaching out. Do you have a common acquaintance? Did you like something they wrote? If you don’t mention it, you might quickly become a potential spammer.
  • Add a personalized touch with voice memos. Voice memos force you to take a more personal and meaningful approach to outreach. Be careful of abusing this feature, though—the same bad habits that lead to spam over direct message can be even more irritating through voice memos.
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Take Money You Were Spending on In-Person Events and Invest in Offline Strategies

If you have a yearly conference budget, it’s fair to say that’s out the window for 2020—and possibly into 2021. But rather than have that money burn a hole in your pocket, are there some productive ways you can spend it without losing the emphasis you place on networking? Here are some ways you might consider investing that money instead:

  • Direct mail. Yes, direct mail! Whether you send customized notes to those precious few contacts you have made in person or you have a highly localized business that would benefit from a direct mail campaign, this is a medium that’s highly conducive to social distancing. Consider a tool like SaaSMQL as a valid alternative to cold emails and the typical “sales pipeline” standards that people are employing during the pandemic.
  • Content marketing. Good content can have a dramatic impact without in-person networking. Content marketing gets three times the leads per dollar spent as paid search, for example. It also generates more leads than outbound marketing while costing 62%

Don’t Do Everything on Zoom

With our increasing reliance on Zoom (you can see a stock chart for Zoom below, just to get an idea of the impact it’s had during the pandemic), it’s tempting to go too far in one direction.

Why not do everything on Zoom?

In fact, some companies do work completely remotely. Zapier, for example, is a company famous for being entirely remote-based.

But that doesn’t mean you should rely on Zoom meetings. This isn’t a simple equation: more Zoom will not equal better results.

Before COVID, did you think that more meetings were always better?

If not, why should that change?

Zoom meetings are valuable because they let us coordinate with each other quickly. But so do phone calls. So does Slack. Beware of Zoom meetings becoming the new meetings, a tool for managers to overcomplicate what could otherwise be brief interactions.

Create an Online Community

This is one of those tips that sounds obvious, except for one little thing: it also sounds really, really hard.

It’s both. Yes, it’s obvious that hosting your own online community would be a beneficial way to network with people. It wouldn’t only bring together like-minded people, but you would instantly have more credibility as a leader in that community.

The problem is that creating an online community sounds like a lot of work. And it can be.

But there are ways you can use the resources already at your disposal to start creating a better sense of online community. And once you have that community in place, networking will be much easier—especially with a larger community. Here are some tips for bringing it all together:

  • Unify your online presence as much as possible. These days, people will tell you to maximize your online presence—especially during COVID-19. Get an Instagram, a Pinterest, a LinkedIn. Host webinars and Facebook live events. Go live on Instagram. But what good are these strategies if you have minimal influence with each post? Concentrate your energy by using tools like Buffer and Zapier to automate posts on social media. Use that profile to point to the central account where you want most followers to go.
  • Create something worthwhile before you promote the community. Have you ever encountered someone online who wanted to start a community from scratch? It doesn’t really make sense. The best marketers will start with the content first. They’ll give people a reason to engage online. This draws people in naturally. From there, that’s when you can start taking your networking more seriously.

Re-Evaluate Your (Boring) Networking for a Post-Pandemic World

It’s not great that the world is shut down and so many people are suffering because of a pandemic. But when you have less time to network, it does mean that you have the time to review how you did things in the past.

Let’s take some of the old networking habits you had. For example, let’s say that you had your typical, run-of-the-mill business cards. Every time you handed it to someone, it had absolutely no impact on them. They may have even forgotten about it the next time they saw it.

Well, now’s the perfect time to have new business cards printed. Have a look at 99Design’s top business cards, for example.

Or you may even forget about business cards together. Maybe you use a tool like Every USB to turn your business cards into USBs, flash drives, and more.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Maybe you can’t go home again, but at some point, networking will begin to look like it used to. It just won’t be the same. The key is to embrace the changes, discover where you can improve, and not use the shutdown as an excuse to quit networking. With the right habits, you’ll emerge in the post-COVID world better than ever.

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