The Value of Online Connections

by Jill Foster on January 29, 2010

I think I’m a decent networker. I can go to an event and talk to every person in the room. I can leave with more than just a stack of business cards in hand — I can get a good idea of how I can help my new contacts and build a strong relationship.

But not everyone I want to connect with is going to be at any networking event in my neighborhood, or even in the nearest big city. There are plenty of people out there who I could create a mutually beneficial relationship with, if only I could meet them. I know I’m not the only one in this situation, either.

Luckily, “meeting” someone really can be a matter of emailing that person, as long as you do it correctly.

Get in touch for a reason

At a networking event, you meet people and then discover how you can connect beyond the standard business card exchange. It’s the exact opposite online, at least if you want to make more than the most casual of connections.

It’s important to check out a prospective contact: look at her social networking profiles, read a couple of blog posts she’s written and generally figure out not only why you want to introduce yourself, but why your new connection will want to know you.

Walk in her shoes: what can you do to help?

When you send your prospective contact an introductory email, you want to focus on what you can do with her, without sounding egotistical. There’s a balance of offering a little help and sounding like you think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s important to be on the helpful yet humble end of that spectrum in order to get a response.

Carefully build upon that initial email

At least at first, one of the best goals you can have for networking online is to create a conversation. Simply introducing yourself isn’t enough to make sure that you stick in some people’s minds — if they’re busy, they may bang out a response to your email and forget your name by the time they’re on to the next message.

This isn’t the electronic version of cold-calling, either — or, at least, it shouldn’t be. An online introduction or conversation that comes on like a strong sales pitch tends to wind up in the spam folder.

Instead, take things slow and build a real relationship. Just because you don’t see your new contact in person doesn’t mean that you can’t have a friendship or working relationship.

We live more and more of our lives online. That doesn’t mean our connections aren’t (or can’t be) “real.” It’s up to us to make them so.

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Image: Michael O’Donnell, Creative Commons

Thursday BramGuest post by Thursday Bram. Thursday offers content marketing through Hyper Modern Consulting, as well as more traditional writing services. She blogs about the shift between freelancing and business through her personal blog Thursday Bram and can be reached at www.twitter.com/thursdayb.

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