The New Normal and Networking - What SMEs Need to do to Start Online Networking Post COVID-19
Returning to work in a post-coronavirus world and embracing the “new-normal” brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start, as well as creating new challenges.
The slow reopening of the economy has given many SMEs a clean slate to work from. However, the change to the professional landscape has made networking, an activity that works best face to face, a difficult task.
Shaking hands and swapping business cards at conferences won’t be happening for the foreseeable future, and any other form of in-person interaction looks like it will be limited too. In mid-June 48.9 percent of people said they are still exclusively working from home or alongside travelling to work.
This is a guide of how to swap your in-person networking strategy over to an online strategy.
The Wonders of LinkedIn
Having more time on our hands has meant many of us have been polishing our personal and company LinkedIn profiles and, along the way, we’ve urged our colleagues to share and like our posts.
The platform has established itself as the easiest way to search for other businesses and individuals in your industry, most SMEs will already have their own LinkedIn page because of this. However, its importance has never been higher than it has been now, now is not the time to underestimate it.
LinkedIn saw a 26% rise in visits in the last quarter and saw “record levels of engagement” in March. If you want to get your name out there and make valuable contacts you’ve got much higher chances of getting them through the platform than before.
Join an Online Group
Online groups exist for every sector meaning your business can join a group that will give you several contacts. For recruiters, TEAM is a good choice. One of its purposes is to open you up to wider networks by becoming a Member.
A quick web search will also introduce you to many specific groups for even the most niche industry, for example, I found online networking groups for artisan cheese makers, chimney sweeps and chemists. Joining one might bring you worthwhile, valuable contacts.
Cross promotion: Using Existing Contacts
Your prior made contacts will have access to a whole network of people your business is currently unintroduced to. You can take advantage of the relationship by suggestion you cross promote each other, sharing each other’s companies on your LinkedIn or social media streams. If you both have blogs on your websites, a blog sharing scheme can give both of you exposure to each other’s networks.
More ambitiously, if you and your contact both have similar networking aims a joint marketing campaign promoting each other can do a lot to both expand your businesses to new customers and to expand your networks.
A combined for a joint effort will not only give you access to each other’s customer bases but give you both access to a whole host of valuable contacts you haven’t encountered before
Large, world known companies do this all the time to try to take advantage of each other’s audiences, a recent example being O2 and Disney Plus promoting each other in joint advertisements.
Social Media and Advertising
Now might be the time to start experimenting with advertising with options limited for many companies. A post-lockdown budget might now allow potentially expensive advertising, even if it’s only aimed locally. Using social media platforms to promote your business is therefore a no brainer, it’s a way to advertise that can be totally cost-free.
Before the pandemic response there’s a good chance your business got along fine without a dependence on social media or online advertising, instead favouring in-person interaction at industry conferences or similar. Since this isn’t possible anymore a strong social media presence is not only recommended but essential.
LinkedIn, although incredibly useful as explained above, must be complemented by other platforms like Facebook and Twitter to cast as wide a net as possible.
At a conference or industry expo you might have a knack for selling your company to someone who was passing by their stall. Networking via email, phone or video conference removes any charisma and persuasiveness you might rely on and your potential new contact might be googling you as you type/speak. If the first thing they look up is one of your company’s social media accounts, make sure it’s up to date and answers any questions they’ve got.
As social distancing becomes the new-normal, tools for remote networking will inevitably develop as will many people’s ability to use them. It does not look unlikely for many companies’ networks to carry on growing regardless if they embrace the methods, they have access to.
Author Bio: Peter East is a professional content writer for Suits Me. He has training in BA Journalism and has an interest in political and data journalism. When not on the lookout for new stories he’s been developing a new podcast