Updated May 30, 2021
In the last two years, we’ve lived through a global pandemic that changed everything: the way we live, the way we work…. and the way we network.
Even before the pandemic, tech was disrupting networking. But the act of being confined to our houses for months at a time took this even further. We got used to connecting online, some of us dabbled in MS Teams and found ourselves hosting calls on something called Zoom for the first time ever…. and networking was forever changed.
Tragedy interrupts our experience of time and launches us into a space where pressures of life don’t exist. If you’re experiencing this right now, you will come out of it, but it takes time. And since others will be feeling this way, it’s a time to be very careful about approaching people.
However, I do think that there are ways to build your network during the pandemic. Here are some things you can do:
1. Reach out to people online
I always advocate reaching out to people on LinkedIn or via email as a way to build your network.
Believe it or not, this is still a good time to do this.
Most people who are not ill or working in health care or essential services are at home. Many are available. A few days ago, I saw someone post on Twitter that she wanted to have a Zoom conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He answered, and she later posted screenshots of the conversation they had!
The fact that everyone is at home, and a lot of people are bored, CAN make this a good time to network.
HOWEVER! You DO NOT want to be cold-calling people who are mourning the deaths of loved ones. That’s just insensitive. People need time to grieve.
I’d suggest seeing who is active online. If people are posting actively on LinkedIn, Twitter, or another platform, I think it’s safe to approach them. I have a guide on how to do that here
2. Engage with content
Tacking on to the point above, this is a good time to engage with content people post. When people have busy lives, they often post something on LinkedIn or Twitter and then head off to their day—forgetting all about it. I’ve hung out with enough management-level people to know that usually LinkedIn takes up a few minutes of their day, max.
These same people are now spending more time online, and are more likely to engage with their followers. In fact, I watched Mark Cuban do a live, business question and answer on his LinkedIn the other day. Mark Cuban does not normally hang out for an hour a day on LinkedIn—trust me.
Engage with the content of people you admire with thoughtful, well-crafted responses… they’ll notice more than ever.
3. Produce content to become a thought leader
The pandemic is changing the way we interact with information, and especially changing who the experts are. Before March 2020, could you name a single epidemiologist or infection control specialist (not counting if you are one 🙂 )? Specialists like Dr. Anthony Fauci have now become household names. I’ve followed dozens of new people on social media who are producing good info on the pandemic.
Even if you’re not medically inclined, there are emerging fields that are crying out for more thought leadership. With every disruption comes a hunger for new information as people and businesses learn to manage the change.
If you are interested in creating content about one of these in-demand subjects, you will likely find an audience. Off the top of my head, I can think of:
- Online Education and Virtual Teaching
- Investing & Personal Finance
- Career Change & Unemployment
- Internet Business
- Digital Storytelling & Marketing
- Economic Recovery
- History (Economics, Epidemics, Labor)
- Future of Work (Changing workplaces)
- Gender, Ethnicity, etc. (How does social disruption affect people differently?)
- Climate Change
- Leadership & Management
- Mental Health (It’s health related, but I’m thinking well-being, dealing with anxiety, etc.)
You can probably think of others. These are just issues I can think of that may be in higher demand.
There are always changes that accompany disruption. It just takes creativity to think through where the change will be and how you fit within a newly-emerging world and–believe me–we will all need to do this more than ever now. Here’s a weird example. With people becoming unemployed, there will be a higher uptake in growing food in backyards and balconies. If you know something about this, your knowledge might be in demand. Be thoughtful about what’s needed right now, but don’t be afraid to stand up and be a leader during this time.
4. Curate content to become a thought leader
If producing all your own content is too much for you, you could just curate others’ content on your platforms. This is a different form of thought leadership, but still effective. You can still become a trusted voice in whatever realm you choose to speak into, even if you don’t produce all of the content yourself.
There’s a ton of misinformation during any crisis, and obviously this pandemic is no exception. Add this together with the constant misinformation that the internet already gives us and you get a picture of why content curation is so valuable.
People need information they can trust. Most often, this comes with a name attached to it. Thought leadership isn’t just about the newest or best ideas. It’s about credibility. If you share quality content consistently and become known for it, you might be surprised to find that people will flock to you and employers will notice you.
5. Build your online footprint
If you are able, this might be a time to build your online footprint. You could do this through starting or expanding your LinkedIn profile.
You might even choose to start a website. I’ve found building a website to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Roostervane helps people with career advice, even when I’m sleeping. One morning a few weeks ago, 6000 people had read one of these posts before I’d had breakfast. You won’t believe the tremendous reach and impact you can have with a website. Just a note, a personal website is fine, but a thoughtful blog or targeted niche site might be even better! But do make sure that the website showcases you as an individual and builds your voice and your brand!
I also wrote a guide on how to start a blog–you can find it here!
Believe it or not, starting a website is not a huge endeavor, but it can pay dividends for your career as an online portfolio of your thought and your work and to create waves online. And you do know potential employers google you, right?
But if all this is a bit too overwhelming for you, just make sure your LinkedIn is tight. If you’re going to do one thing, do that.
A note about numbers 2-5
Did you notice something about the advice above? This is a post on how to build your network, but only Number 1 actually involves reaching out to people. Numbers 2-5 focus on you creating your thought leadership so that potential employers and peers will notice you. This is, perhaps, the best way to go right now.
Thought leadership is a safe space. When you create a presence online, people can either take it or leave it as they’re able. Yet with many people stuck inside, there is a hunger for thought leadership–especially if it’s positive, informed, and sensitive.
The other beautiful thing about thought leadership is that it’s relatively recession-proof. Thought leaders will always be among the most in-demand of their industries because they are perceived as unique and valuable.
These are a few thoughts on how to build your network during this unusual time. I trust they will be helpful to you. If you’d like to read some more in-depth thinking on networking, I enjoyed this article from Harvard Business Review.
Know how strong you are. I see a lot of people talking about how this is a time to work on self-care, and of course it is. But it’s also a time for courage and leadership. Perhaps you are called to this.
Stay safe and healthy.