How to Build Your Network in the Age of Virtual Conferences

Learn how to become a better digital networker.

Zight | September 06, 2020 | 8 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 11, 2023

How to Build Your Network in the Age of Virtual Conferences

If you’ve ever been to an industry conference, you know how beneficial they can be. The best events are educational, entertaining, and have the potential to boost your career to new heights via incredible networking opportunities.

Unfortunately, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has decimated the events industry in 2020. Major conferences like the ever-popular South by Southwest (SXSW) were cancelled. Other well-loved events like Adobe Summit were hosted virtually for the first time.

While technology does give us the option to create stellar digital gatherings, the event-going experience is much different than it used to be — especially in regard to networking.

The reality is, virtual conferences will probably be the norm for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, we wanted to take a moment to discuss six networking tactics you can deploy in a digital setting. That way your career growth doesn’t stall during this time.

Let’s dive in!

1. Attend the Right Events

Set yourself up for digital networking success by only attending the right virtual conferences.

How do you know which events are worth your time? First, evaluate the slate of speakers and other known attendees. Are these the kinds of people you want in your network?

Next, discover if the virtual conference in question facilitates digital networking. Some online events host one-on-one video calls for attendees to meet each other or add them to specific networking Slack channels.

Many virtual conferences in 2020, even the ones hosted by major corporations, are free to attend. But remember, your time is valuable. If a specific digital gathering doesn’t adhere to the above guidelines, we suggest finding a different virtual event.

2. Join Pre-Event Social Groups

Top-notch virtual conferences don’t just provide networking opportunities during the actual event; they also allow attendees to meet and engage beforehand.

Huge annual gatherings like Social Media Marketing World, INBOUND, and many more offer Facebook groups and Slack channels, which event attendees can use to connect with each other prior to the start of the digital gathering. This is a fantastic opportunity for you!

If the virtual conference you plan to attend offers this networking perk, take it. When you do, you’ll be able to engage with a variety of different folks in a laid back atmosphere.

If your virtual conference offers a Facebook or LinkedIn group for networking, it will also be easier for you to send friend and connection requests to the business contacts you meet, which will make relationship building a piece of cake down the road.

Pre-event social groups aren’t exclusive to virtual conferences. Event organizers have been hosting them for in-person gatherings for years. But they work just as well, if not better, for digital get-togethers and you should definitely take advantage of them if you’re able.

3. Create a Cold Outreach Campaign

You can also connect with other virtual conference attendees, and even speakers, by creating a cold outreach campaign. Fair warning, this strategy can backfire. But if you implement it in a tactful way, it can prove wildly effective.

What do we mean by a cold outreach campaign? Any campaign that seeks to engage you in conversation with professionals you don’t already know.

Your cold outreach campaign can be conducted via email or social media (LinkedIn is the most popular social media option for this purpose.) The key is to reach out with value. Too many people make contact in blatantly self-serving ways.

When you write an email or InMail message with the goal of networking, always ask yourself, “How will this connection benefit them?” Perhaps you can introduce them to an influencer in their industry. Perhaps you have a specific skill set they’ll find valuable. Maybe it’s something simple like you both cheer for the New York Knicks and can comfort each other after 20 years of miserable basketball.

If you’re not sure why a potential contact would have any interest in connecting with you, it’s probably better for you to hold off messaging them until you do.

4. Ask Your Current Network For Referrals

Does the thought of a cold outreach campaign make you uncomfortable? It’s definitely possible to connect with professionals you don’t know without having to use the strategy mentioned above.

Mine your current network to see if they know any virtual conference attendees and/or speakers that you’d like to network with. Then ask them to make an introduction for you.

Because many professionals are now working from home, they don’t get the same level of human interaction that they’re used to. This has led to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation, which means contacts that would have been out of reach prior to the pandemic, may be more willing to connect with you via email or Zoom.

Don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Be bold and ask for an introduction. If you don’t, you might be giving up your only chance to meet with certain high-level professionals.

5. Participate in Digital Networking Activities

We’ve talked a lot about pre-event networking strategies. But what can you do during the virtual conference to grow your professional network? The easiest thing to do is participate in the digital networking activities hosted by the conference.

Many virtual event planners are getting creative and thinking of interesting ways to allow professionals to connect with each other online.

For example, some conferences allow attendees to jump on Zoom calls with speakers to get their most pressing questions answered. Others create Slack channels that attendees can use to connect with their colleagues. If you’re feeling adventurous, access the virtual networking lobby that some digital events provide and speak with other attendees in real time.

The digital networking activities available to you will vary from conference to conference. Take a look at what your online gathering offers and then plan to take advantage.

6. Follow Up Post-Virtual Conference

Lastly, make sure you follow up after the virtual conference concludes. This is so important! You may have really hit it off with someone during a digital networking activity. But the contact will be lost forever if you don’t take steps to connect again in the future.

A proper follow up requires you to do two things:

  • Get Contact Details: You can’t send a follow-up message without contact details. Make sure you ask new colleagues for their name and email address. That way you can reach out to them when the virtual conference concludes.
  • Send a Follow-Up Message: Once you have a new connection’s name and email, you should use them. Send them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn or email them a personal message.

The way you follow up will depend on your networking goals. For example, you wouldn’t contact a hiring manager the same way you would a potential customer. Write follow-up messages that speak directly to the recipient. In other words, don’t use templates.

3 Digital Networking Best Practices

If you implement the six networking tactics above, you’ll be able to make important connections at virtual conferences. But if you really want to kick your networking efforts into overdrive, keep these three best practices in mind as well:

1. Have a Plan of Attack

You need to have a plan of attack before attending a virtual conference. What do you hope to gain from the digital gathering? Are you hoping to secure new clients? Do you want to connect with industry decision-makers? Maybe you just want to meet other like-minded folks.

When you know what you want to achieve, you can design a strategy to help you get it.

But don’t stop at personal objectives. You need to dig deeper and research speakers and potential attendees so that you’re prepared to engage with them in professional ways. You may even want to study your own business and products so that you can answer all inquiries.

Lastly, plan the sessions you want to go to and the questions you want to ask the speakers — especially if you hope to network with them. By asking intelligent questions, you’ll present yourself as someone worth connecting with.

2. Announce Your Participation

When you know for sure that you’ll attend a specific virtual conference, make an announcement. This can be done via social media, by sending an email to your list, letting your podcast listeners know, or all of the above.

What’s the point? By letting people in your circle know that you’ll be at a specific digital gathering, you’ll have a better opportunity to connect with others who plan to attend as well.

This best practice is especially important if you’re attending the digital get-together as a vendor or want to meet new potential customers. Your audience needs to know that you’ll be at the event so that they can make time in their schedules to engage with you.

3. Invest in Technology

Obviously, technology is needed for just about every aspect of a virtual event. Without the internet, webcams, event software, and other tools, digital conferences simply wouldn’t be possible.

With this in mind, it’s important to learn how to use the technology required to effectively participate in an online gathering. Do you know how to navigate the event interface? Are you familiar with Zoom, Slack, or any other tool the event managers have decided to use to facilitate networking?

Technology may also help you after a virtual conference has ended.

Take, for example, a tool like Zight (formerly CloudApp), which gives users access to screen and webcam recording, GIF creation, and image annotation features. You could use these features to craft highly original and personalized follow up messages.

Imagine if you received a customized video message from a colleague you just met at a virtual conference. You’d probably remember them afterwards, right? Of course you would!

Fortunately, Zight (formerly CloudApp) won’t cost you an arm and a leg. It’s completely free to use. Download it today and boost your virtual networking game immediately.

Wrapping Up

Networking in the age of virtual conferences might not be ideal, but it’s definitely possible. We encourage you to give the six tips listed in this article a try at your next digital gathering:

1. Attend the Right Events

2. Join Pre-Event Social Groups

3. Create a Cold Outreach Campaign

4. Ask Your Current Network For Referrals

5. Participate in Digital Networking Activities

6. Follow Up Post-Virtual Conference

Did we miss an important virtual conference networking tip? Let us know about it in the comments below!

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