Virtual Networking: How to Build Relationships and Nurture Leads Online


With social distancing measures in place, in-person networking events have been postponed for the foreseeable future. But don’t worry — you can still cultivate connections online. In fact, virtual networking opens up even more possibilities. Since a virtual network isn’t geographically limited, you can foster relationships with your peers from anywhere in the world.

“In the past networking was limited to where you actually know people,” points out keynote speaker and executive coach, Dima Ghawi. “Now we’re part of a global virtual community.” Virtual networking allows us to connect with people based on shared professional interests rather than shared zip codes.

But virtual networking requires more effort than just swapping digital business cards or pressing the “connect” button on LinkedIn. Here’s how you can be strategic and intentional about growing your online professional network.

Engage Meaningfully with Industry Peers

If you want to nurture your virtual network, engagement is vital. For example, take advantage of the plentiful online content currently being produced. “But don’t just sit and listen to a webinar,” Ghawi says. “Ask a question, post a comment or otherwise create engagement.” Find opportunities to share your expertise. This could be participating as a guest on a webinar or sharing your thoughts through LinkedIn. Follow up with people who engage with your posts.

“Join groups that are aligned with your professional interests,” Ghawi says. “This allows you to see what other people are saying and interact through comments.” Reach out and talk to people in that group. Finally, foster connections between members of your network. “When you connect people with each other, you become part of an even bigger network,” Ghawi says.

Make Time to Follow-Up With Connections

To really strengthen your network you need to maintain interactions with your existing connections. Be intentional and set aside time for chatting with people you connected with from webinars or LinkedIn groups. If you’re used to spending one hour a week at an in-person networking event, for example, set aside an hour per week to follow-up and interact with members of your network.

Spend time talking to connections that you’ve had for a long time, too. “Look at your list of contacts and reach out to them,” Ghawi suggests. Try to talk to three people a day from among your friends, clients, suppliers or other professional connections. The pandemic has taken its toll on each of us, and a brief conversation asking how your connections are doing can leave a lasting impression.

Privilege Existing Relationships Over New Sales

Remember that networking is about creating valuable, long-term relationships — not short-term sales leads. Don’t try to push your product or service. “The difficult times we’re experiencing now will be connected with your brand image for a long time,” Ghawi notes. Companies or individuals that are too assertive right now will come across as insincere.

“The best relationships are built on value,” Ghawi says. “But creating value for each other never starts with a sales pitch.” Instead, invest your time in helping and supporting existing clients. This will help you grow your leads much more organically and effectively than pushing products or services on new connections.

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