The COVID-19 crisis, and the social distancing it required, accelerated a shift to digital networking. Whether it’s day-to-day communications or managing long-term relationships, many business owners connect with peers, vendors, and employees online. Here we look at how to forge genuine digital connections.
Step 1: Go digital
The amount of time we spent online jumped in 2020, and the numbers haven’t gone down. Take a look at how our digital media consumption has changed since the pandemic:1
Action: Update your social media and ensure it’s not an afterthought. Customers are likely to encounter you there, as are colleagues, competitors, vendors, and others in your network.
Step 2: Build a network
The average consumer has more than 8 social media accounts,2 so you may want to be strategic about how you engage your contacts. To get the most out of your connections, choose a platform best suited to the relationship.
Your macro network of suppliers, partners,
employees and clients
LinkedIn or other professionally focused sites
Your neighbors and local connections
Nextdoor, Front Porch, or local groups and
pages on LinkedIn and Facebook
Your acquaintances including casual friends and your
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or generalized sites with broad audiences
One-on-one connections like friends, employees, or anyone you
work with closely
Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or other video chat
software, even phone calls
Action: Make a list of the people you deal with regularly, using the categories above. Then search for them online and reach out.
Step 3: What to say
Be strategic with your first message, particularly if you are connecting with someone for the first time. Think about the best way to build trust, since people may have their guard up during a crisis.3
To start the conversation…
With new customers, include a personalized note to welcome them.
With vendors, distributors, and partners, call just to check in throughout the crisis.
With existing clients, email them to say thank you and consider loyalty rewards.
For the first time, make it clear why you’re reaching out and why you picked them specifically.
Action: Have a clear message in mind when you reach out. Think about what you hope to communicate, and consider what the recipient may be going through. Doing this can help you determine the best time to send a message and what wording to use.
Step 4: Build the connection
If you can, meet your digital connections in person, and make sure to connect digitally with new people. Engaging people in multiple ways can help strengthen your connections. To do this, consider arranging digital events that translate to real-life events, and vice versa.
Host a digital
Host a happy hour
If you like to network over food, simulate the setting online, then invite the same people to an in-person event.
Organize a workshop
Consider pairing a tutorial video series with in-person classes (it may even develop into a revenue stream).
Start a social
Create a local club
If you connected with peers during the crisis, consider formalizing the group. Likewise, create a digital version of any in-person groups to stay connected.
It can feel challenging to build connections on multiple platforms, while also running a business day-to-day. But if anyone can do it, small business owners can. As leaders who bring people together every day, owners can use digital tools to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones.