There's a New Strategy for Networking in the Digital Age

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It was only a few decades ago that networking meant attending conferences and events and handing out a business card. Yet fast forward to 2022, and networking is increasingly taking place online. This was a big thing even before the global pandemic ushered in the era of remote working and Zoom calls, but now, we’re truly living in a time where digital networking is the norm.

While this means more opportunities to connect with a wider pool of people and connect with those who would previously have been off-limits, it also brings in a whole new set of networking etiquette and methods.

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Here are a few basic principles to keep in mind when navigating this new world.

Approach communication with a “less is more” mentality

Your aim shouldn’t be to try and connect with everyone and their grandparents. A few superficial connections might give you the satisfying feeling that you’ve “been productive,” but it’s unlikely to be particularly useful in the long run unless you get lucky. The digital world tends to favor a quantity-over-quality approach by flooding us with constant noise and an endless pool of new connections.

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Aim to have the following five categories of connections:

  • 3-5 people you can use as a sounding board for advice and support at your most vulnerable.
  • 5-15 people you can ask for help with specific questions.
  • 15-200 people who are acquaintances you can connect with from time to time.
  • 200-1,500 people who are more distant contacts you can try to reach out to but have a limited relationship with.
  • 1,500+ people who might follow you on social media but don’t connect with you directly.

Focus on them in this order. There’s no use in trying to become an influencer if you don’t even have a handful of mentors or close colleagues you can trust.

Be careful with your written communication

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Everyone has a different idea of how formal online communication should be and how to interact with others, but I encourage you to apply the “less is more” approach to how you communicate through writing, too. It’s no secret that attention spans are dropping, so cater to that by keeping your messages and posts as concise as possible.

Cut the fluff, and don’t take two sentences to get across a message you could convey in a single line. If you do need a few lines to get across your point, break it up with plenty of white space, which makes it easier for the reader to scan through what you’re saying and come to a quick conclusion. This applies not just to posting and commenting online but also to messages or emails you might send out.

One way to increase the chances of someone reading what you’ve written is using emojis. They’re not just for the kids — they’re a great way to express yourself and add a dash of color and personality to whatever you’re saying. Some people fear that a potential connection or employer won’t take them seriously, but this is rarely the case. Five billion emojis are used every single day, and they’re fast becoming a universal language. Why not make use of them?

Finally, try to offer a combination of content on your LinkedIn posts. Instead of always posting about your personal experiences or commentary on current affairs, mix things up by doing a bit of everything. Ideas include:

  • Industry updates
  • Motivational and encouraging content
  • Anecdotes
  • Videos and images

And don’t forget to comment on others’ posts! This can be exhausting to keep up with, but fortunately, there’s a solution.

Automate your outreach where possible

One of the greatest advantages of living in the digital age is that everything can be automated — from sending emails to running advertising campaigns. But you don’t need to be a business selling a product or service to take advantage of automation; you can also use it as part of your job search.

Automation is particularly powerful for anyone looking for a new role, but it’s also effective for those who simply want to build their network and be open to any opportunities that come their way in the future.

Always be sincere

Networking is a daunting process and tends to draw out our worst fears. Maybe you’re scared that people will judge you if you voice your real opinions or show your true personality — but in most cases, they’ll recognize the authenticity of what you’re doing and respect it.

For example, LinkedIn posts featuring rants about the platform (e.g., saying it’s too self-congratulatory or cliched) often do surprisingly well. People often enjoy seeing others break taboos.

As a case study, look at this controversial post. It may seem like the post would hurt the user’s reputation, but the account has more than 50,000 followers and regularly brings in thousands of likes on posts. You might not want to take things to this extreme — just be true to yourself and do what feels right for you rather than trying to fit a mold.

You should even be authentic with your automation. That might sound like a contradiction, but it’s up to you which automation settings you choose and how you use automation. For example, will you be upfront about the fact you’re using automation or try to hide it? Will you create automated message templates that are more playful or more formal?

Just because something is automatic, it doesn’t mean that you can’t add your personal touch.

New environment, same people

A lot has changed in networking over the past decade or so, but human nature has remained the same. When it comes down to it, people broadly want the same things and act in the same way — it’s just that the interaction is happening online rather than in person.

Do what feels right to you, focus on quality over quantity and automate when you can. The rest is down to you.

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