Virtual Networking to Grow Your Business
Two years ago, a speaker/author I’ve never met personally conducted a
weekend seminar. I heard about it through his e-newsletter, and offered to
donate copies of my book, Get Slightly Famous, to attendees. I sent the
books to the hotel and received a thank you letter.
A year later, the father of a Hollywood celebrity contacted me. He had
started a non-profit foundation and heard about me through his partner who
had attended the seminar. They were interested in forming a partnership with
my foundation, Global Initiative to Advance Entrepreneurship. They wanted to
provide a celebrity endorsement from his daughter, which you can listen to
This opportunity happened without ever leaving my office.
In another instance, I landed a large client because I maintained a
relationship with the moderator of a popular email discussion list. She
recommended me to another group as a teleseminar guest, and later to a
member of the audience who is now a client.
Both the client, and the referral source, I’ve never personally met.
I’ve always practiced traditional, face-to-face networking. Participating in
traditional, face to face networking groups has helped me meet like-minded
people, grow my contact sphere and position my business to attract
But recently, several “fortunate” events all of which took place through
virtual channels — have prompted me to redefine my concept of networking.
When you take full advantage of virtual networking, you’ll encounter a world
of new opportunities to meet like-minded people, position yourself as an
expert, attract prospects and grow your business without leaving your desk.
Degrees of Separation
Your success is inextricably linked to your network. The goal of networking
is to create and maintain a network of people within your niche that know
you, like you and trust you.
Most businesses do not think beyond in-person networking—i.e. attending
networking events, going out to lunch with key contacts, etc—when it comes
to growing and maintaining a business network. Yet, in-person networking
only goes so far; there’s a limit to how much personal networking you can
do, especially if you have a national or global marketplace.
With a broader mindset, and by harnessing the power of the Internet to
connect you with virtually anyone, anywhere, you don’t need to hope you
shake the right hand at a business mixer anymore to grow your business and
expand your reach.
Today, the Internet provides several ways to expand your concept of
networking. Although there’s no substitute for human contact, online
networking can supplement in-person networking activities and expand your
reach into all corners of your niche without the need to be personally
Online communities and social networking sites are growing into powerful
venues for building relationships online. Online communities have grown at a
phenomenal rate, allowing you to connect with like-minded people all over
the world without the expense and limitations of attending real-world
Some of the top social networking sites include:
– LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com)
– Ryze (http://www.ryze.com)
– OpenBC (https://www.openbc.com/)
– ecademy (http://www.ecademy.com/)
Through social networking web sites, you can target and become part of
virtual communities of great prospects and associates while developing a
virtual “platform” to generate leads and sales and establish yourself as a
Discussion Groups and Web Forums
vE-mail discussion groups, also known as listservs, allow participants to
join an e-mail network composed of those with a strong interest in the
group’s topic. Members post messages, which are sent to the group on a
daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the group, and participate in
ongoing on-line discussions.
Internet newsgroups are also valuable as virtual networking tools. Google Groups
and Yahoo! Groups provide easy gateways. There are e-mail discussion lists
devoted to just about every topic imaginable, from knitting to human resources.
You can find lists that relate to your target market at Topica
Also known as ‘bulletin boards,’ Web forums are hosted at specialized Web
sites, and are often moderated by a host or site owner. They allow
participants to post messages in common areas that members can read and
reply to at any time. Web forums are like ongoing group conversations. One
of the largest directories of forums can be found at Delphi Forums
The Benefits of Virtual Networking
According to Scott Allen, author of “The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors
and Closing Deals Online,” some of the ways that you can use social networks
and other online community channels to market your company include:
The odds are good that you can identify a virtual community where members of
your target market are already gathered. If it doesn’t already exist, just
create a virtual community for your target market and watch it grow.
Research Your Market
Through online communities, you can take the pulse of your target market.
You can learn about consumer interests and reactions with a candor rarely
found in focus groups and surveys.
Create Competence and Reinforce Your Brand
Social networks give you an accessible outlet to establish your expertise.
You can speak up in a mailing list, discussion forum, or blog, and reach
hundreds or thousands of people. Every time someone sees your postings and
email signature reinforces your brand.
Ignite word-of-mouth buzz
Word-of-mouth—satisfied customers talking about you—is one of the most
effective ways to establish your Competence. Word-of-mouth flows through
online social networks, and chances are that you’ll reach prospects and
referral sources by participating in online forums.
Virtual Networking Etiquette
These forms of expanded virtual networking often take less time than
attending a single networking event, yet can deliver a powerful impact and
reach a lot more people. You’ll build relationships with your target
audience by remaining visible, and cement your credibility by offering
useful content related to your expertise.
After you’ve chosen your online networking options, consider what you can
provide that will build and reinforce your relationship with your target
marketplace. Display your expertise and let your personality shine through.
If done creatively and consistently, you will build a powerful network upon
which future sales and referrals are possible without needing to rely solely
on face-to-face contact.
Most of the rules of successful face-to-face networking also carry over to
online networking. Don’t approach online networking with the intent of
aggressively pitching your products and services. In online, as in other
kinds of networks, that approach will do more harm than good. Online
networking is about creating visibility and familiarity, and helping others
in a way that results in trust and relationships.
Copyright 2006, Steven Van Yoder. All rights reserved.
Get Slightly Famous:
537 Jones Street, #2436
San Francisco, CA 94102