Virtual Networking: Overcome Fear & Build Your Personal Presence Online
Virtual Networking: Overcome Fear & Build Your Personal Presence Online
Erin Urban, LSSBB, CPDC, PMI Houston Contributor
It's a new era of engagement. Not only do we have remote work teams, virtual meetings, and online conferences - how we develop relationships and interact is transforming. Now, more than ever, it is critical to build your personal presence online. There's just one little challenge.
Our brains haven't evolved to accept the shift to virtual environments yet. The amazing human mind has taken thousands of years to evolve. The digital world is a recent addition in our evolutionary history. While we are very adaptable, there are some unwritten 'rules' of relationship building and engagement that predate cellphones, computers or even the telegraph.
Our brains have not quite developed a protocol for digitized networking. I won't bore you with the science behind the 'why'. Let's just summarize and say that relationships are best created IN PERSON. Nowhere in our evolution have we been previously exposed to virtual environments. We develop relationships, trust, and form bonds in person.
We are just simply wired this way and you can thank evolution for this. As a result, many of us are struggling to cope with how to connect with others, expand our network, and build trust when we are largely isolated from one another. On the other hand; we are also catapulting towards a future that is vastly more dependent on virtual platforms at an alarming rate of speed.
If you aren't sure about this - just observe our youngest generation and how they feel most comfortable interacting. It is not necessarily in person. At least not physically. Those that identify with Gen Z, for example, are very conversant with having a digital ‘presence’ – almost an extension of their physical self. For them, being virtual is superficially more comfortable and it feels safe.
What is intriguing – even the youngest generations still need in-person contact to fully form bonds and fully release the chemicals needed for our brains to develop trust. This is one of the root causes behind the rampant rise in depression and loneliness. While we are highly adaptable and changes are being seen: thousands of years of evolution are not simply reprogrammed in one or two generations.
How can you turn the tide of disconnection and virtual dependence? In short, you can't. There is no point in debating whether or not we should all go 'virtual'. That conversation is done ... it is already happening. The question that needs to be asked is: how can you leverage the future of engagement to build your brand and your strategic network?
- Pick your platform
- Be yourself - authenticity matters
- Show up and engage (don't stalk)
Pick Your Platform to Build Your Brand
Be intentional with your brand! In order to determine your ideal platform: what is your brand and what do you want to accomplish with your broader network? Do you want to expand your professional or business network? Or, do you want to establish yourself as a brand authority around ‘personal’ focus areas? A great example of this might be the difference between being known as a leader in project management versus being an authority on fitness, food, or pet-care.
Your brand focus will determine what social platform you need to use. Let’s say you are an aspiring thought-leader in quality management – you probably won’t want to show up on Facebook. LinkedIn is the platform for you! However, if you want to become known for your skills as a yoga instructor: become intimate with Facebook and Instagram (for starters).
In the world of digital networking, your platform will determine how you will reach your audience. Ask yourself who will gain value from your message or where your target career path lies. This will drive where you ‘show up’ to build your brand. Whether you want to be a thought leader or whether you are only interested in landing a great new job; building your virtual brand is critical. If you don’t show up online, you may become invisible to your target audience.
Feeling a bit skeptical? That’s perfectly understandable and I felt much the same way. I am not extremely comfortable ‘showing up’ online (believe it or not). If given the choice, I’d much rather see people IN PERSON. Regardless, one must adapt.
Whenever I forget how important this is, I will have someone in my personal network tell me how glad they are that I shared an article on Facebook (not my target platform) because they had no real idea that I was a career coach. It’s always enlightening to realize how much impact we actually have!
Quick tip: if you are wondering what the heck a ‘brand’ is – it is everything you share online. Everything. In-person, it’s everything about you and how people perceive you! We are our own billboards advertising what type of people we are, every day.
Most of us aren’t very responsible with our brand. We ignore it, thinking that we don’t really matter or have any real impact. Everyone has impact. If you are responsible for the impact of your brand, you could be sending the wrong messages! I encourage you to become intentional to increase the impact you want.
Authenticity Matters. Here’s Why It’s Uncomfortable …
You might wonder why there is all this hype about authenticity. It's because there is a disconnect between the limited experience of the virtual landscape and what we need relate to other people. The experience online is entirely different because we are only receiving an extremely limited perspective of who someone is based on what they share.
This is one reason why the more of yourself you share, the more connected you become to like-minded people. Also, this is why you need to show up much more frequently. When you share online once a month – no one has any real idea who you are. They are less inclined to acknowledge your presence. What puts some people off is the level of authenticity that needs to be shared is much more than what’s commonplace for in-person connections.
The sheer volume of ‘showing up’ online has to be tremendously more than you would normally do in-person as well! People want insights into who you really are. Because they are only getting a tiny snippet of who you are, it takes more effort. People connect much faster to those they can relate to. That's why sharing (especially personal ‘stuff’) is so critical in virtual environments. Uncomfortable yet?
I get it ... me too. It's not easy for me to 'share' too much. I’m a former corporate cubicle-dweller and I've been trained to be super-professional. Another part of me screams that no one cares about any of that stuff ... and that's not true at all. People actually do care - more than you think! The important key to remember is, you must share what is relatable based on the brand you want to develop.
Show Up and Engage – Don’t Just Sit There!
Please do not ‘lurk’ online and don’t stalk. Determine your brand focus, pick your platform, and show up to engage! Lurkers are those people who might comment on your post or like something occasionally, but they never share something outright. Stalkers observe what’s going on and never engage at all. This will get you a whole lot of nowhere when it comes to building your brand in a virtual environment.
Share content (videos, articles, write blogs, post memes, quotes, long-form posts, flip-books, or eBooks) that are relevant to your brand focus.
Share frequently! Most social platforms reward frequent users and you also connect to more people that way. Understand the rules of your social platform and leverage them.
Be personal. Share some things about you. What are your hopes, dreams, and challenges? Are they the same or similar as your target audience? People connect better to those they can relate with.
Have a personality. If you are comfortable with video, webinars, and going live on these platforms; be sure to ‘emote’ 30% your personality more than you would normally in person. Use your face and vocal variation to provide more sensory input to your audience (unless this is counter to your brand).
Engage with people! Do not dump and run. When you share content, engage with those that have made comments on your posts, videos, etc. Connect with those people. Ask questions and get to know them!
My advice: share but don't over-share. Show up and be authentically YOU but don’t be a hot mess. We all know those people that make you want to run away as soon as they open their mouths. On the flip side, it's best to be a real person to others than try to wear a mask - this is true either online or in-person. The key is balance. Keep your platform and your brand in mind. If being a hot mess is your brand, then go for it!
Keep your target audience in mind when you are sharing. Will your post, video, etc. have value to someone or will help build your authority in your network? You’d be surprised what does have tremendous value to other people. Sometimes (not often) I will just have to vent about something that I feel other people can relate to. It almost always receives a ton of attention! People connect better to real, authentic emotion.
However, people do not gravitate towards those who are bottomless pools of negativity. We might think fondly of those people (we all know one) and we will also go out of our way to avoid them unless we have to. Don’t be that person. You can share quite a bit more than you think online – it all depends on HOW you say what you need to say.
There is a world of difference between stating, for example: “My boss makes my life miserable and I hate coming to work every day” and, “Has anyone ever dealt with a micromanaging boss, if so – what techniques helped you thrive?” The latter question engages others and invites them to collaborate with you. The former is a statement and you might not want to share either one if your boss is also on that same social platform!
The key to content that builds your network is collaboration! Social platforms are not made (maybe Twitter) who want to make statements and not use the language of collaboration. A good question to ask yourself is: “Am I inviting people to collaborate with me?”
Virtual Brands are Essential
As we propel ourselves into the slightly uncertain and increasing virtual future, I hope these tips help you overcome your roadblocks to building your online brand. Having a brand online is not just for big-name companies. For those that work remotely, it will be tough to market yourself as a professional when you are not co-located with your team.
Another important tip to consider: the amount of ‘showing up’ you do online largely depends on what you want your outcome to be. For those that are more reserved, having a virtual presence is an almost foreign concept. If sharing online brings you anxiety of any form – keep in mind that you do not have to do ‘all the things’. Maybe blogging is your preference. Perhaps you prefer to share little snippets and a nice related photo. You can always just ask questions and share relevant content from other sources too!
Right size your virtual brand based on the results you want to see. I will be very transparent that I started ‘showing up’ online years ago out of sheer frustration. I liked what I did but my role only used a fraction of my expertise. I turned to LinkedIn to blog and share my knowledge with a broader audience. That energy and focus led to two 6-figure jobs – I never had to apply for either one! Show up and share; you never know what opportunities might await you.