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I never believed in online social networking. Until I discovered the best practices to do it. My first preference in building my social network was always through face-to-face meetings. I would interact over a phone call only if a meeting was not possible. I would exchange emails only if phone calls were not answered. I followed the rule of meeting a new person every day when I was hunting for stories on a daily basis as a full-time business reporter. Entrepreneurs definitely do not have the luxury to spend a lot of time on networking, yet networking is essential for your startup to grow.
The effective use of online networks made me realize how much time I was wasting talking on phone calls and meeting people who were not relevant to me. I now believe that online networking should be the first step to do effective offline networking. Vivek Jain, founder of caclubindia.com says that not only do online networks help in the filter before meeting the right person, they break barriers of location. We are able to do an assessment in advance whether it will be worth the time to meet a new person.
Similar to offline networking, online networks too do not offer quick returns. Networking is an on-going process and patience is a virtue in building long-term valuable connections. Entrepreneurs need to network not only amongst peers in the domain or sector they operate in but also outside of it in order to learn different skill sets essential for a founder to have. The startup ecosystem has a lot to share in terms of knowledge with each other. Here is a look at how one could build efficient online networks:
Choose the networking platform strategically
There are many broad networks available online which invite people from diverse fields and different executive levels. I am not sure how effective it is to join such networks. For instance, I find most Facebook-based networking communities very broad-based and directionless – the posts shared on them have very less to do with my profession or area of interest. Moreover, people are always trying to sell their services or products in such networks. On the other hand, niche networks often help in saving time as they have serious and pointed discussions. Online networking if done with the relevant groups and communities can yield instant results. Sandeep Singh, Founder, Infisecure and also a member of the WunderNova networking club tells how online networks have helped him, “I have got jobs through networking. I have engaged on continuous feedback loops with founders building networking platforms globally and B2C portals. After starting InfiSecure, some of my online connections became our early adopters.” Before WunderNova, Sandeep had been networking online since the last 7 years.
“Most of my virtual connections are good business connections now and even friends whom I meet when I visit new cities,”
Maintain your profile and engage regularly
Join fewer online networks but be active in them. There is no use of having a profile which is half updated and not visited often by you. Just like you are filtering profiles before building a connection with someone, they are doing the same. Engage with people, help them by sharing information which could be useful to others. Wolfgang Bergthaler, an Indo-European business developer, entrepreneur and consultant says,
“The golden rule for successful networking is to first and always contribute more to the network than take away. Don’t be scared to share too much. Even if some people take advantage, keep sharing genuinely. A network (and you as a member) can only thrive if people give, not just take.”
Be wary of sharing things irrelevant to the network but at the same time, do not hesitate from sharing things that you genuinely feel will be useful to the network.
Have a specific reason before you request a personal meeting
I am seldom motivated to reply to direct messages that ask me “Hello. How are you?” on business networks. This is not a professional approach if you are looking at fixing a meeting or talking business to someone you have just met online. The first message in a professional network should be drafted after a lot of thought. Introduce yourself and mention how you two can work together. Try to articulate why you think a meeting between the two of you might be helpful to both parties.
Leverage existing networks to build new networks
This is something that is often missed by people. We get so involved in building new networks that we miss the value of our existing contacts. Angela De Giacomo, manager at the WunderNova networking club says, “Most people I meet these days are the ones I meet online first – normally via an email introduction. And, because the introductions come through my existing network – the trust level is high from the very beginning.” Once the introduction is made, Angela tries to have at least a call with them and if possible she meets them. This takes time but is always worth the effort.
“To sum it up; I think that meeting online is a good way to get a business relationship started and a collaboration initiated but one should definitely meet offline too. It is so much more enriching,”
The fundamental rule of networking – which remains same online and offline – is that one should always give back to the network and never try to sell yourself in the first introduction or meeting.