How do we turn a disruption into transformation through networking and personal brand building?
There are two ‘networking’ constants in my life. The first? I work for a company that designs and sells IP address management software. Helping organizations transform and manage the challenges of their dynamic corporate network infrastructure is what I do day-to-day.
And the second? Personal face-to-face networking, which I really enjoy, until social (physical) distancing put a kibosh on get-togethers. Luckily, I had the opportunity to take Tricycle Europe’s Social Selling Masterclass this month, facilitated by Julia Winkler, and we talked a lot about this second kind of networking — mainly, evolving how we make personal connections and improve our personal brand. Networking was at the forefront of my mind during my startup days in San Francisco, my MBA in Paris, and when I first moved to Reykjavik, but how do I keep it up now?
It’s ironic that a period of time that will be known for “social distancing” has actually forced us all to deepen existing social bonds, create new social avenues, and reassess what true connection means.
Turn disruption into a competitive edge.
On my company’s blog that I edit (when you’re the office’s only native English speaker, you get volunteered for cool roles like this), we talked last week about turning the disruption and vulnerability of these surreal and paradigm-shifting times into real competitive transformation.
In our sales and marketing team, we rely heavily on the connections we make at trade shows across the world. I’ll be honest, it felt like an earthquake had hit the office when we realized all of these conventions had been cancelled for the year. And trust me, this is Iceland and I’m a geologist, so I know earthquakes.
This is why the Social Selling Masterclass came at such an opportune time: it reminded me, and my team, about positioning our company’s brand strategically on social media to maximize our exposure in these types of channels. Sales is a two-way street. When you can’t meet other companies on the trade show floor, they will most likely visit you more digitally. So your digital presence better be on par, or better, than your shiny multi-thousand dollars trade show booth. Fancy screens, candy bowls, and all.
These tactics of social selling, though, can be used for strengthening your personal brand, as well. Talking to Julia and other brand-building specialists, I’ve put together a first-pass list about what we can do immediately to improve our networking and personal brand when we are stuck at home:
Your LinkedIn profile is your new business card.
It blew my mind when Julia reframed LinkedIn like this, as your new digital business card when connecting with sales leads. When I consulted at Tradecraft, we worked on refining our LinkedIn profiles to be at their peak for job searching and freelancing. But I never thought about evolving my profile for connecting with sales and marketing leads as a full-time professional.
LinkedIn released a list on their blog about how to maximize their platfrom during these times of social distancing, and it echos what Tradecraft and Tricycle say:
Be authentic. Your unique perspective and experiences are useful. They are an avenue to connect with others, and sharing them honestly and openly can lead to genuine connection. LinkenIn adds that the most engaged with posts on their platform are people sharing personal lessons or triumphs.
This isn’t Facebook or Tinder. Your profile picture should be professional. Use the background banner as a visual connection to your company or skillset. And if your headshot is fifteen years old, or a kitchen selfie like mine, I recommend connecting with a local (and probably currently out of work so super grateful) freelance photographer.
Keep it up-to-date. I am sure this is a “duh” statement, but if sales leads or customers connect with you on LinkedIn, you want them to know exactly what you and your company do. I use HubSpot in my day-to-day tasks to manage my CRM at work. There, I can set up sequences that automatically send a LinkedIn connection request to a lead. So it’s vital they can easily tell who I am and what I do.
Be relevant. One of the tips I received for using LinkedIn while job searching was to find dream jobs postings on AngelList or the company’s website, and reverse engineer your profile to contain those keywords into your summary, past job descriptions, and/or skills. You can do the same for attracting sales leads or future mentors, by adding relevant keywords into your profile.
Get out there even when you can’t get out there.
Social media and digital platforms have seen a renewed resurgence in the past two months. Brands are seeing huge view numbers with sponsored and reviewed posts on TikTok. Video conferencing giant Zoom is now worth more than the top seven airline brands combinded. And I spent more time together with my family on Houseparty this year than I did in-person all last year (Granted, I live in Iceland, and they live in Oklahoma, so I have a good excuse!).
The push to digitally and socially transform our companies is now unavoidable, and this provides us with a golden opportunity to transform how we network too.
Online courses and seminars. Like the Social Selling Masterclass, now is a great time to jump online and refresh an old skill / learn a new skill. My company, MEN&MICE, is offering a three day online “jump start” on (computer) networking basics; the University of Iceland here in Reykjavik is also offering a wide selection of summer school courses in English and online for non-registered students. The Creative Thinking, Communication, and Teamwork class looks especially interesting for an Icelandic market. So, why not join a course where like-minded professionals, future mentors, or potential customers could be hanging out?
Create content. Don’t just attend a webinar, create one. When my friend’s kid decided to launch a YouTube channel to teach math tricks, all I could think was, “wow!” Not only is this child learning valuable skills like digital content creation and public speaking, but he will also connect with children his age across the city and country who are interested in math as well. It’s a win-win project. And in my marketing team, we are working hard to come up with tailored visual content that will replace the sales pitches and brochures we’d normally use during trade shows. I think we’ll see an uptick and broadening in what companies post on social media and in novel online venues in the coming months, so explore what you can add to your own channels.
Become a leader. Take content creation one step further, and show the world where you’re a thought leader. I used to be on a competitive pub quiz team when I lived in Singapore, and I took those skills to a network I manage now. I help event coordinate and community manage the Iceland branch of Girl Gone International, and I hosted an online quiz via Kahoot! that did so well, I took the quiz to a larger quizzing audience and met a ton of new people. When people are craving personal connection, now is the perfect time to launch and lead that book club, hackathon, writer’s circle, or interest group that will hopefully attract people with whom you’re looking to connect.
Both types of networking have changed our lives, from the dawn of the Internet to surviving this year. And frankly, at the risk of sounding cliché, there’s no returning to “normal.” In the 21st century, “normal” equals “change.” Disruption is our new baseline. And when transformation is a fact of life and not a choice, understanding what channels we have at our disposal and how to best position ourselves on them is key. From LinkedIn to online pub quizzes, from Twitter to Discord, or from relevant webinars to any online university and modern course platform, there is still ample opportunity to meet new people.
So, don’t be daunted by these new circumstances. The terms and conditions may have changed, but the sales pitch is still the same: keep on networking!
There are so many people to thank with this blog, but I’ll give it a shot: Julia Winkler of Tricycle Europe; Greg ‘Dinchamion’ Fazekas who writes Men&Mice’s blog and from whom I stole words; but also the MEN&MICE sales and marketing team; my online communities, including GGI and Women in Tech Iceland, as well as my international DnD and Cat Appreciation group who kept me sane these past few months; and of course Tradecraft, who forced me to start this blog years ago.