It might not come as a surprise that during the course of the pandemic our personal and professional networks shrank. As many of us turned to our closest friends, family members and colleagues for support, communication with some of our more distant acquaintances fell to the wayside.
In a study undertaken by Harvard Business School it was found that communication with close contacts rose by 40 per cent at the expense of a 10 per cent drop in exchanges with strangers or individuals we don’t know particularly well within our professional circle.
Being intentional about maintaining our outer professional networks is more critical than ever for our long-term success. Research has also indicated that our pre-pandemic chance encounters contribute to our happiness and sense of belonging.
The estimated 1,500 acquaintances that comprise the outer circle in your networking ring are important for keeping groupthink in the workplace at bay and can make it easier for you to be seen and potentially get promoted.
While remote work can leave us feeling reluctant to reach out, reconnecting with professional contacts and those we lost contact with during the pandemic is a great way to rebuild your network. It can be as simple as expressing gratitude or asking for assistance from a mentor or former boss.
The old adage that people do business with people they know, like and trust still holds true today as much as it did 50 years ago. However, some of the top barriers to networking are the challenges of nurturing these connections and finding the time to engage in this, particularly when your career is doing well.
The results from a 2017 LinkedIn global survey indicate that 80 per cent of professionals believe networking to be paramount to their career success, especially when it comes to employment.
Tips on how to nurture your network in 2022
Update your profile
LinkedIn is an ideal platform for curating a professional profile that best captures your expertise, accomplishments as well as demonstrating credibility in your industry. Consider how the content you share, your banner, profile photo and summary reflect your brand image.
"Potentially engage a professional copyright editor or content creator to help you present your background in the best light, and consider adding thought-provoking content," suggests Adam Coffey, CEO at Advisory Guru, LLC.
Engage with content
Relevant content you may want to share on LinkedIn can take the form of an inspiring blog post, a useful whitepaper or a thought-provoking TED talk. You might want to also comment and tag one of your connections when it’s suitable to do so.
"By doing this, you expand your reach online and potentially start conversations with professionals you otherwise would not have known," explains Jeremy Ostermiller, CEO of Edison Interactive.
Acknowledging others’ achievements by sending them a message or commenting is a simple way to maintain your network.
Join a networking group
While creating a strong online presence is important, joining a group network can be particularly helpful for entrepreneurs looking to gain inspiration, new skills, support, advice and confidence in growing a startup.
"You create links, professional opportunities and sometimes friendships," says Gaelle de Vrindt, Founder of Girls on Travel. "Whatsapp groups are then created where everybody is welcome to share thoughts and get help from other women who are or were in the same situation."
Since the social norms that apply in this context are different to those we normally encounter in everyday situations, it’s important to recognise this if you intend to get the highest return on investment from the event.
"Although it is generally perceived as intrusive to just walk up to a group of strangers and introduce yourself in everyday situations, this behaviour is more than acceptable at networking events," Dr Chloe Carmichael, a New York based clinical psychologist, points out.
Engage with people face-to-face
Think about different scenarios where you could hold a conversation with someone who may end up being your next client, customer or investor. This could be at a cafe, the gym or perhaps in the park while you’re taking your lunch break.
"I’ve had an opportunity to make meaningful connections with people while waiting in line or sitting on an airplane. You never know who that person next to you could be—it might be your next client or investor," says Cindy Diffenderfer, CEO at Orion Haus.
Set measurable goals
Setting an achievable goal such as to connect with a certain number of new contacts each month or spending half an hour each week to engage with your existing network on LinkedIn can help to keep yourself accountable and aligned with your intentions.
"Setting an intention to meet and build a meaningful connection with one new strategic contact a month can have a high return," affirms Muraly Srinarayanathas, Executive Chairman of 369 Global Inc.
Building strong relationships is always a two-way street. You can demonstrate this by providing value to people within your network. This might look like offering advice, becoming a mentor to someone in the early phase of their career or bringing two people together who could benefit from each other.