Long before Facebook and LinkedIn, there were business cards…and golf days, and business lunches, and charity events. “It’s not what you know but who you know,” is, after all, an old saying.
Social networking may now have a very digital ring to it, but there’s a proven tradition of career building by making acquaintances and circulating your name and reputation. The problem now is how to make the most of those two versions of professional networking–the digital and the personal. Broadly defined, the difference between the two is depth.
Social media platforms offer a great way to showcase your digital resume: your name, qualifications, employment history, references, maybe a few samples of your work. You can even put some of your personality on display with playlists and Likes. It’s hard, though, to get much of a conversation started with a random stranger who could turn out to be a powerful ally.
The in-room version of the meet-and-greet offers more potential for human interaction, but limits your potential contacts to, well, whoever’s in the room. The sweet spot between these two is virtual professional networking, and it works best when powered by video conference.
Virtual Professional Networking
There’s a version of virtual networking that has grown out of the chat room philosophy of gathering strangers under a common banner. More like seminars–or webinars as the internet has transformed them–these events promise to get you in a virtual room with your peers. Using video conferencing technology, groups of people can listen to special guests and follow along with speaker-led activities before breaking into smaller groups for more intimate conversation. Platforms like Google Hangouts and Skype carry all the necessary infrastructure to let dozens of people sitting alone in front of their webcams get face-to-face–video vendor BlueJeans even found a way to stage a town hall meeting online–so there’s no technological barrier. You just need to be organized enough to call in to the group chat on time.
There’s obviously going to be a high degree of hit-and-miss with that kind of random association, and it could be time-consuming, but there’s always the chance you might see a group comment that resonates or hear a question from the audience that leads to a worthwhile conversation.
The best method for improving your professional standing digitally, though, might be to simply turn to a video call every time you get the chance to interact with someone in your profession.
You Don’t Make Friends Over Email
We can all agree that email is not the way forward–it might even be doing us physical harm–but many of the downsides to email are also shared by social media. The messages are static, the response times can be lengthy, you’re never certain you have the other party’s attention, and conversation can’t wander into new territory without a string of replies. Plus, without a human voice or facial expressions, the written word is easily misunderstood.
You get none of that confusion or stale communication with a video call. Instead, you’re face-to-face just as if you were sharing coffee in the park. So if you’re interested in turning acquaintances or contacts into friends, do away with email as often as you can. If you’re duty-bound to use the phone or email with a new client or a supplier, just make initial contact and pass on your Skype or Zoom handle for the full chat. If you have to make a request to another branch office, see if you can access your colleague through an internal video call; with more and more businesses embracing workplace collaboration apps like Slack, many of us have a video address book sitting in front of us all day. And if you do have the good fortune to reach someone by video call, be open to letting the call wander outside the immediate agenda, just as you might in-person.
Creating Culture with Video Conferencing
The ability to make friends and connections within the business world is critical in part because more and more of us are working outside the traditional office. Almost 4 million employees in the U.S. work from home at least half the time, a number 115% higher than it was a decade ago. That trend is going to drive us further and further apart physically, and our digital connections are going to become more important. It has been said that people who make an effort to improve their professional network are almost 75% more likely to earn a promotion.
When you’re posting your credentials online, make sure you include your video contact or maybe even a direct link to your own personal video calling portal.
To do so, we’ll need to seize every opportunity to turn routine communication into a conversation. Remote team meetings over group video chat must include a little extra time for general chit-chat. Virtual common areas can be built to accommodate after-hours discussion and even talk with absent colleagues. When you’re posting your credentials online, make sure you include your video contact or maybe even a direct link to your own personal video calling portal (you can even build a video link into your own website). And use your smartphone–you don’t always need access to the company video calling suite when your mobile can host dozens of video calling apps.
The rest is down to good old-fashioned charm.
Social media is great at providing the introductions, but to turn those into meaningful conversation, you need video conferencing.