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Networking: Online vs in person

By Michael Healy 11 Apr 2019
Two professional women having a conversation.

Networking has historically been known as a complex process with rules around etiquette and presentation. However, in today’s world, online networking has become a growing phenomenon and that brings its own set of guidelines and expectations.

Taking the time to compare online to in-person networking and focusing on how to build connections for each, can set you up for networking success.

Networking online

If you want to build a network, now is the perfect time. There are millions of people turning to online platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to socialise and connect professionally. The trick is to know where your people are. There is no use building an online presence on a platform that your professional community doesn’t use to connect.

Once you’ve established the preferred platforms of your professional community, there are a few basics to follow when networking online.

1. Set up your profile with a good profile picture and heading. 

Keep it professional. Maximise your LinkedIn profile by ensuring your profile picture is a high-quality image that shows your face clearly. Also, your description or heading is one of the first things a potential connection will read about you. Try to avoid saying you are only a student and instead use a descriptive and engaging sentence about yourself.

2. Connect first with your real-life connections.

This could be friends, family, lecturers or even local community connections. You can also start by following authoritative accounts, such as respected CEOs, political representatives or specific influential figures to your career interests.

3. Understand and manage the boundaries. 

Social etiquette is a fundamental part of building connections. It is also a skill that can be hard to transfer into an online platform. Avoid over-stepping boundaries by being polite, introducing yourself through a direct message before requesting to connect, treating each new connection with professionalism, and respecting each person’s privacy.

4. Stay active, participate and engage with quality content.

Once you’ve created your profile and started connecting with your community, it is important to stay active and relevant online. This means liking, sharing, commenting and using hashtags. Share thoughtful items that relate to your professional brand such as reports, reflections, achievements, challenges you’ve faced, blogs, articles or videos. 

Contrary to what you may think, building your network online can also require you to wear your heart on your sleeve. Social media has a reputation for being full of facades, so sharing genuine opinions and feelings shows respect for your network and gives your activity a sense of authenticity. You can even use your profile to talk about delicate topics such as politics; just make sure you do so with professionalism, justification and respect.

Networking in person

Some connections will start online and strengthen in person. Some will start in person and be maintained online. When connecting with people, your goal should always be to meet in person. Reach out for information, opportunities or mentoring to organise a meet up or interview. Remember to be specific, realistic and respectful when asking.

Be authentic and don’t pretend to be someone you are not. When moving an online relationship into a real-life setting, it becomes obvious when your online presence is a charade, and this can be off-putting. Be honest and act with integrity; you will attract a network based on the way you behave online.

Your individual personality can also play a role in your networking success, particularly when comparing being an introvert or extrovert. By developing your strengths and using your personality as a unique advantage, you will be able to navigate the situation to create valuable connections.

Another big part of networking in person is attending events. Focused events are better than general when choosing a networking event. Conferences can be great, but expensive, and beware of sales traps. A safe and easy way to find relevant events to attend is to join a professional association. This is a particularly good idea while you are still a student because you often have the advantage of discounted or free memberships.

 Don'ts  Dos 
 Don’t drink too much  Do relax
 Don’t take your resume  Do be prepared to follow up
 Don’t be timid    Do initiate conversation
 Don’t just talk to friends  Do take a support crew
 Don’t crowd people  Do exit gracefully
 Don’t ask for favours   Do ask questions 

Networking in person is not too different from networking online. By ensuring you are acting and presenting yourself honestly, professionally and respectfully, you will be able to maintain both online and in-person connections with ease.

If you are struggling with how to start growing your network, a mentor is always a great start. USQ offers USQ Career Mentoring Programs where you can find a mentor connected to your profession or study area.

Author profile image of Michael Healy