Pick up a name tag. Grab a drink. Mill around the rooftop. Muster up the courage to start up a conversation... Sound familiar? 

Networking events aren't always easy, and now that COVID has postponed many of our traditional happy hour networking events, we're left to get a little more creative when trying to make new connections.

But take heart! Networking expert J. Kelly Hoey suggests the concept networking is more expansive than just rooftop cocktails: 

"Networking is not a singular event… it is every interaction throughout your day, both online and off. Your email signature line, the article you share on LinkedIn, and the person you choose to sit next to at lunch are all part of the mix." 

Here are a few ways associations can foster meaningful “networking” interactions in the digital age.

  1. Be deliberate about what you're planning.
    As Steven Covey says: “begin with the end in mind.”  Not every virtual event serves the same purpose. Livestream events are a great option if you're trying to replicate a keynote session. Convening webinars and workshops on a given topic is a great way to pull together cohorts of people with mutual interests. Bootcamps, how-to tutorials and guided lessons are terrific if you have members who want to deep dive into specific topics. 

    Read Hootsuite's full guide to virtual event planning here.

  2.  Quality over quantity.
    Less is more. Strive for excellence. Start off with a few events, well spaced out (allowing for time to plan and execute), with high quality speakers and topics. Build out your schedule over time once you've been able to demonstrate engagement and receive good feedback on programming.

  3. Short and sweet.
    It is hard to keep someone's attention for an extended period of time. It's even harder to do that online, when the temptations of the internet and email are just one click away. 

    Be punctual. Avoid long blocks of sessions. Get right to the good stuff! Have someone monitoring the chat, and use that to make the session interactive. Consider building in polls and live Q&A so members can offer their own input during the conversation. Strive for engagement, not just attendance.

  4. From ‘macro’ to ‘micro’
    On a macro level, hosting large webinars and industry fireside chats is terrific for connecting people who are interested in a similar topic. The next step after this is to encourage interaction at the micro level - the individual level - so your members can get direct feedback and engage in conversation without getting lost in the Q&A chat.

    Now that you know this group is interested in x or y topic, how can you cultivate further engagement?

  5. Follow-up!
    As Hoey said, "Networking is not a singular event," but that event can mark the beginning of a fruitful relationship if done correctly. Consider teasing out other events, articles, or resources that relate to your events to help keep your members engaged in the conversation -- even if you’re not live! Hosting and promoting community groups on LinkedIn and Facebook (or via your own community platform) can be a great way to promote engagement throughout the year.

There you have it! Five ready-to-implement ideas for creating connections in a digital-first world. Take these ideas back to your events planning teams and get ready to wow members with some exciting new networking experiences.

For more strategies to help your association navigate a digital-first landscape, join us in December at our annual conference. Click here to register. 

Some further reading:

How to Network In Today’s Digital World, Forbes

5 Worthwhile Networking Event Types, Career Contessa

How to Host a Virtual Networking Event, HBR

How to Host a Successful Virtual Event: Tips and Best Practices, Hootsuite