In a time where we are more connected than ever before, professional networking feels like it should be easy. Seemingly everyone wants to network, whether it’s to jumpstart their businesses or to grow their careers. As online platforms like Linkedin continue to grow exponentially it’s becoming easier to accumulate a large number of virtual connections. But these virtual connections can only take your business so far. In fact, 72per cent of people say that their impressions are impacted by how someone presents themselves in person and their handshake. In the age of the Internet, figuring out how to transform online connections into meaningful business opportunities can be daunting. Transforming online interactions into face-to-face networking is a big challenge, and big brands are already out there trying to solve this challenge.
Thanks to technology, professionals have more chances than ever to grow their business connections online. LinkedIn keeps suggesting new professionals connect with, alumni networks stay in touch over Whatsapp and you see “Anyone in Delhi this week?” kind of updates in your social feeds from your business contacts and colleagues who are travelling for work. Although your LinkedIn network may consist of thousands of people, how often do you meet up with them in real life?
Research shows that in-person networking comes with far more benefits than simple online connections, including developing mentorship opportunities, improving problem-solving skills, and significantly boosting sales and close rates. Meeting people in person may seem in direct contrast with our increasingly digitized lives, but in fact, it’s more important than ever.
So the real question is “how can you turn online connections into valuable business relationships?”
Networking in the Right Context
One of the main reasons that professionals find themselves unsatisfied with the networking process is that they find that they simply do not have enough time to spend doing networking activities. In fact, 41per cent of professionals want to network more frequently but say they don’t have enough time to do so. Initially, this argument could be taken for face value. It’s true that in a busy world a lot of time is spent commuting, in meetings or working on projects. And when we do find some downtime for a coffee or a meal while we are on the go, our attention goes directly to our phones. The classic take on networking has been to use this free time to make natural connections, networking with strangers in unfamiliar settings as a way to pass the time.
However, in a world where more people are identifying as introverted the approach of walking up to a random person with a “Hi, my name is… ” isn’t for everyone. To find common ground with strangers in this scenario requires an icebreaker that would be relatable contextually.
Sometimes this context can be found in the form of created spaces and environments for networking, which are often related to business conferences or limited to closed networking organizations.
Instead of chatting up a stranger at the airport lounge, business professionals can now join networking meetups that are tailored to their specific interests. This technique can also be an added benefit for women in business, who oftentimes have to balance their interest in networking with concerns for security. Meetups with clear and defined purposes are a trustworthy way to network, which explains the popularity of women-only industry events and networking organizations.
Professional Networking Using the Dating Model
Brands are beginning to realize that common ground for networking can now be found or created, on their own applications. Some dating apps, which traditionally function with a “swiping” model to sort potential partners, have modified their platforms to include options for professional networking. After noticing that users were using the dating platform to the network for professional opportunities, Bumble launched “Bumble Bizz” in late 2017 to take advantage of matching business-minded networkers with each other. And the former CTO of Tinder launched networking app Ripple earlier this year also based on the model of swiping left or right to get a match.
These brands retain their original formatting for their networking applications, meaning that even though the purpose has changed the underlying idea of selection exists. By presenting photos and minimal background information, users can swipe through decks of potential matches. If two members match, they move to a chat where they decide if they are interested in meeting face-to-face. This model does little to ease the initial barriers that are present with online networking, and oftentimes it is up to the users to develop their own icebreakers.
Turning Swipes Into Real-Life Meetups
Most apps on the market focus on connecting individuals with swipes and a few photos. In general, these apps provide you with the opportunity to meet one person at a time, which is not very efficient for people who lead busy lives. The invite is doing something different: connecting professionals based on local networking events, called “invites”, within their proximity. This networking app enables multiple professionals at a time to meet for coffee or meals in order to grow their networks and unlock business opportunity. Unlike the dating model, it is not people you are swiping but invites, each with a specific date, a place and a theme for discussion. Theme-based invites are also inclusive, and the community consists of 50 per cent of professionals in C-level or director positions. These group style invites break the ice and make networking a more efficient process.