I notice that many of the people around me have got a little lost in the transition from traditional professional communication to the new digital normal. In this context, I have developed a new formula for developing a personal approach to rebuilding professional networking tactics. Here are six essential steps you can follow to revamp your professional networking experience...
Develop your digital vision
The new realities of restrictions in public life have forced a transition from traditional models of interpersonal communication for professional networking, to digital. This change required many of us to adapt our digital working tools. Our recent online survey suggests that almost 50% of respondents have increased the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in their professional life. However, like in traditional business-to-business (B2B) experience, digital networking requires developing a very clear digital vision of your short (e.g., 90 days) and long-term goals (e.g., one year), and your objectives. In the past, we selected events, conferences and exhibitions to network with peers; however, now we have to be very selective in choosing online webinars, platforms and Zoom events, in order not to get lost in cyberspace. It is very important to choose your priority clearly: is it just maintaining digital connections with your colleagues? With top managers? Is it searching for a new job? Or something else?
Update your digital skills
Practically all of us have basic digital skills and experience in working with social media and ICT. However, in the era of digital revolution, only your in-depth mastery of digital skills can make you competitive in the labor market of today and tomorrow. Indeed, it is very important to professionalize your ICT, remote office management (ROM), artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) skills, learning how to use those skills professionally and systematically for networking purposes. It sounds obvious; however, in our survey only 27% of respondents had decided to learn about new ICT skills and competences. Yet, opportunities are endless, as numerous MOOC programs offer courses on ICT, AI, VR and data management ranging from the paid services of Coursera, EdX and Udemy to free courses offered by many universities and professional associations. Paradoxically, these educational platforms are also good for digital networking purposes with like-minded people through in-class group discussions, exchanges and collaborations.
3-D of digital networking
The modern digital world has many differences in professional networking compared to the traditional B2B model. However, some principles – as in Keith Ferrazzi’s classic business communication book Never Eat Alone – are written in stone and do not change even in the digital era.
The foundation of modern professional digital networking lies in a combination of skillful inter-personal communication psychology, emotional intelligence and creative public relations, which I summarize in the 3-D formula:
1-D: Do anything to get out of your comfort zone, by jointing online events and exchanges and voicing your thoughts;
2-D: Do create your appealing digital “elevator pitch” by preparing at least 5 or 6 separate clearly written statements about your expertise, interests and priorities, each targeting different audiences;
3-D: Do reach out to others systematically and professionally, by brainstorming (or using other tools like problem tree or apps) on clear action plans tailored to specific audiences.
Take care of your digital image online
As people spend more and more time online, the only way to stay in demand, remain visible and keep warm connections with the members of your network is to develop and maintain a very professional image in social media. Many recent studies suggest that this year people doubled or event tripled their hours per day on the Internet and social media. Therefore, even small typo or wrong image on your opening page in social media platforms will be noticed by many. It is important to take care of your digital image and develop your personal brand in cyberspace by updating and polishing all information about you on social media and all professional websites. This includes polishing your bios and profiles on LinkedIn, various professional websites and job search websites, and learning how to get rid of those small but annoying typos, sloppy sentences, embarrassing photos and incomplete or offensive thoughts and ideas.
Manage your networking effectively
My most effective students take networking ideas from classic project management classes. Classic project management studies suggest subdividing networking into three levels:
Drivers are decision makers or influencers in your network whose opinion or decisions may have the greatest impact on your career, job opportunities or implementation/funding of projects.
Supporters are individuals or groups with whom you cooperate or work on various issues and activities.
Observers are those people in your social circles who are not necessarily involved directly in your activities and/or project; however, they provide moral support, psychological encouragement or assist you in your brainstorming and other exercises.
Developing a chart or plan for how to deal with members of each of those three groups will help you to communicate with them more effectively.
Automate. Automate. Automate
The latest trend in the world of digital networking is the integration of apps, software and online social platforms into an effective digital communication and outreach process.
The very first step is to choose the most appropriate digital personal assistant. There are dozens of products designed for easing and systematizing planning and implementation – from Siri and Alexa to Cortana and ALICE. In addition, there are many startups and highly cool specialized tools and apps that assist you to stay organized and prepared by arranging better management of your personal calendar with not only regular reminders about all your major meetings, actions and activities, but also summaries of business news, strategies and remote office management.
PS. As the coronavirus pandemic pushes us towards terra incognita in public and inter-personal communication, there are some key survival strategies. First, in this critical time, it is especially important not to isolate yourself from friends, colleagues and partners. Second, it is the moment to make appropriate changes and adjustments in digitalizing your work. Third, it is time to recalibrate your skills for new realities by mastering the power of ICT for better networking.