Virtual networking in the modern age means the solopreneur has to be able to navigate the ins and outs of social media, video conferencing, online workshops and classrooms, and now . . . the metaverse. Finding your platform is a crucial part of your strategy. You have to know where your people are and learn to use the platforms they love.
Do you know why Facebook is now called Meta? Could it be that the aging powerhouse is now trying to sound more attractive to a younger audience? Or could it be to avoid legalities with a name change? Maybe it could be that this rebrand will link Facebook’s new moniker to the future of online interactions. It’s likely a combination of all 3. With the pandemic forcing so many of us to communicate via virtual interaction, the metaverse is growing exponentially. With virtual reality on the rise, networking is merging old-school strategies with new technology.
Virtual Networking in the Metaverse
Virtual events and spaces aren’t a new idea. The metaverse has been here long before the Zuck thought to rebrand. Before Rona sauntered onto the stage, many recorded conferences allowed you to purchase access to live streams or replays as an add-on on bonus. Virtual spaces like Roblox, Fortnite, and Sims (yes, I’m old enough to remember when it came out) are all a part of the metaverse. Today, your niche is likely represented in a new virtual summit or meeting place each week.
While we don’t have to have VR sets, there are now more virtual spaces to network than on Facebook (Meta) and LinkedIn. Here are a few old-school networking strategies you can use to make yourself more comfortable with the growing technology and some digital spaces to test out your skills.
Virtual Coffee Dates
Virtual coffee dates have always been my go-to for post-face-to-face encounters. After vibing with a new colleague at a conference, a quick share of a bit.ly link to my calendar could mean a new collaboration, a potential virtual assistant, or a recommendation for an existing client. The same is true now that we have pivoted into more virtual-leaning normality.
Having this 10- to 15-minute scheduler as a standing option allows you a place in your calendar to have casual conversations with colleagues, peers, and subordinates. Have the link ready to share on social media for those you want to work with and those that want to work with you. When they say, “I’d love to talk more about your marketing class.” You can say, “Great! Let’s have a virtual coffee. Pick a time that works for you.”
How to set this up
Create an account with an online scheduler like Calendly or Acuity that links to your business calendar. Choose the best time of day for coffee chats. If you know you’re more amenable to people and come alive between the hours of 2 and 4 pm, book a few days per week just for 15-minute slots to chat. Don’t forget to leave off those vacation days!
#1 Rule of Virtual Coffee
Focus on the other person. Nothing says casual like a good listener. If someone is coming to you, they may be trying to sell to you or collaborate with you. Let them do the talking. If you are coming to them, ask them about what they have in the pipeline to show interest in their offerings, then tie it into your brand.
A virtual summit is the new workshop. Looking for a niche-specific gathering of industry professionals addressing a particular problem? There’s probably a summit for that.
When joining a summit, there is a little prep work you want to do first:
Set up your profile:
Have a small .jpg or .png ready to upload in case the summit is not connected to a site like Facebook or Gravatar. Also, have a mini-bio (1-3 sentences) you can include on the platform to let people know a bit about you and your business/services.
Prep your pitch:
Have your elevator pitch typed up or well thought out. At any moment, someone may ask for services that fit your offerings, and you want to be prepared to throw your hat in the ring.
Research the topic/niche:
Summits usually address a problem within an industry or niche. Research both to see how they pertain to your brand and offerings.
Research the speakers:
Even if you only read the blurb on the summit website, getting to know which speakers vibe with your brand is excellent information to have in your arsenal for future collaborations.
Be prepared to type:
Dive into the comments. The teachings/speeches are often pre-recorded with a live Q&A to follow. But you want to connect with your fellow participants. Is there someone repeatedly saying what you wanted to say? Do you have the answer to a pain point? Let the people know. Click their name and find out what ways they’ve listed to connect–this is someone who thinks like you or needs you.
I like to ask in the comments, “Is this your first virtual summit?” Another is, “Do you commute or work remotely.” Both questions allow seasoned attendees to shine and give first-timers an opening to join the conversation. Lastly, I ask, “I found this event on XYZ. Where can I find more events like this?” People who love to share information or feel like a resource will list all the places they know of to find more events like the summit you’re attending.
Have a tabs organizer:
As I’ve experienced with many summits, you will get inundated with links to various websites. Having a tabs organizer extension (I use OneTab) has saved my digital life. I collected 14 tabs from multiple sources on the first day of one such summit–all great information I did not want to lose. I clicked a button, creating a webpage of all the tabs. I named them Summit Day 1 and was able to return to the page later in the week.
This is still a fairly new technology. Even the experts aren’t exactly sure what it will become. Similar to it’s elder, the internet, it has a vague description with countless possibilities. However, it isn’t stopping tech giants, influencers, speakers, and brands from taking advantage of the various platforms to standout.
Because this technology is fairly new and unexplored, not many are opting to utilize the spaces. Brands that do will need service providers and digital creators to help fill the gaps. From work meetings to interactive concerts, creative business opportunities are being leveraged each day.
A few ideas
- Digital store – create a digital representation of your physical store where people can view your products and ask you questions
- Digital products – create digital versions of products for people to buy for their metaverse avatars (even Nike is hiring digital creators to create their products)
- Digital event planner – plan digital events like retreats for remote teams, from TED Talks to product launches, birthdays to anniversaries
- Here are a few more
Building strong connections is more important than ever, but you have to do it in new ways.
Serve before you sell.
The best service providers add value to their networks, not take from them. Success means thinking about what you can do to solve a problem for your community. This is true whether you’re talking about your social media following or someone’s career path—the more value you provide through connections and information, the more successful your virtual networking efforts will be.
Set aside time for networking.
To reap the benefits of virtual networking, you need to prioritize it. Set aside time in your calendar for networking and treat it like any other appointment—no matter how busy you are or what else is on your plate. If you have an hour set aside at 6 p.m., then make sure that’s when you do it—even if someone calls with a crisis or an urgent request or if you don’t feel like doing it at all!
Figure out which networking activity works best for you.
When I started, I was trying to go to everything under the sun: meetups, events at cafes around town where people would come together over coffee and talk shop–you name it! After a while, so many options were available that I didn’t know if the right ones even existed! Research different activities (meetups vs. industry conferences vs. professional networking sites) and see what resonates with you the most. Start booking what you can without overwhelming yourself.
Virtual networking is a critical skill for everyone to have. Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to grow your company or an employee hoping to secure a new job, having a solid network of connections will determine your success and pave the way for future opportunities. And while networking can be problematic in the best of times, it’s even more challenging in the new normal. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace as you adjust to new technologies and spaces that stretch your comfort level.