Networking in a Pandemic: Build Your Relationships

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Creative Mornings

Creative Mornings founder Tina Roth Eisenberg speaks at a Creative Mornings event in Brooklyn. Creative Morning’s “Field Trips” events, presented by volunteers, are now offered on Zoom.

Before the pandemic, networking expert and consultant J. Kelly Hoey listed the three Ps of networking in this order: 1) people, 2) people, and 3) people.

That principle — that networking is primarily about nurturing relationships — has only become “more magnified and highlighted” during the self-isolation of the pandemic, said Hoey, author of the Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World. “Everything we do right now — from sending emails to making calls to sending texts — is more important than ever. How we make people feel now is going to linger longer than these turbulent times.”

Networking expert J. Kelly Hoey offers strategic advice in her book, on a weekly podcast, and as frequent speaker and writer on the topic.

Last week, Hoey, who lives in New York City, presented a 45-minute talk, “Networking Is on Pause, But Relationship Building Is Not,” during an online event sponsored by Creative Mornings as part of its “Field Trips” series. Pre-pandemic, the events were held at venues in the 200-plus cities that make up the Creative Morning global network, but have moved online to Zoom for now. During Hoey’s talk, participants logged in from across the United States, Canada, and Europe, and most stayed for another 45 minutes as Hoey answered questions and encouraged participants to connect with one another in the Zoom chat box.

Hoey led participants through an exercise where she asked them to sketch their networks as a series of concentric circles — those in the first, smallest circle near the center are those people with whom you share deep ties; the next circles are those people with whom you have increasingly broader and more shallow relationships. The most successful people have both deep and close, and broad and shallow networks, Hoey said.

For women, it’s not enough to be broadly positioned in an industry network, she added. Women have a second network — a close cohort made up a handful of people “whom they can turn to for advice,” she said. The cohort should be made up of people who, in turn, have access to diverse networks, she said. “Otherwise, it’s just an echo chamber.” Your close network of contacts can lead you to contacts in their own networks, she said, and conversely, you can do the same for them.

Much of the success of Hoey’s system comes from taking the time to think strategically, she said — including thinking about how you can contribute to your contacts, as well as about what they can do for you, she said.

“When I think about networking, I always think,” she said, “What’s my goal? And what’s the network that can help me solve that problem? How do I communicate with them in a way that is going to engage them?” She provided the following things to keep in mind about networking during this period of social distancing.

Building a close network. There is no right or wrong way to build a close network, Hoey said, pointing to a group of female lawyers who met at a conference while dancing to ABBA, and subsequently set up an informal network they call the Dancing Queens. “But you don’t   really need to go up to people and ask them, ‘Hey, will you be part of my personal board of directors?’ You already know you have that relationship,” Hoey said. “If you don’t have it, this is a really good thing to start thinking about. It really is essential having those people who have got your back and equally that you have theirs.”

JCI — Just Check In. The secret to building genuine relationships is showing up, Hoey said.  “You’ve got to be there day in and day out. Are there relationships you need to reactivate? What are the little things you can start doing every day to strengthen, reignite, and warm up relationships? It can be as simple as letting someone know you are thinking about them — think about how you can just proactively do little touchpoints and outreach.”

How you treat your network today is going to determine whether or not you have a network when this quarantine is over, Hoey said. “If you’re not just checking in with your network, change that today.”

There’s no formula. The contacts you make have to be personal, Hoey said. “Think about sending communications that …  you would be happy to receive. You could reach out to say, ‘I saw you were in the news.’ Wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook, or repost someone’s post on LinkedIn, send somebody a text to say ‘hello,’ or an article that you think that may be of interest to them. Those light touches will do more to nurture your relationships, than thinking, ‘Oh, I have to send something every Tuesday.’”

We all will want “to rush off and have events when we are all out of self-isolating,” Hoey said, “but don’t revert to behavior that [thinks of] networking as happening only when you need something — that networking is walking into rooms of strangers and schmoozing.”

Cut yourself some slack. Don’t worry if it has been a little while since you have been in touch with some of your contacts, Hoey said. “We have messy, complicated lives. People are not going to be upset with you if you haven’t kept on top of everything. It’s just life, right?”

Use LinkedIn well. During her talk, Hoey mentioned LinkedIn 20 times in the space of an hour — by comparison, she mentioned Twitter only five times. On LinkedIn, “keep your profile up to date to let people know what you’re doing — that’s like a slow drip of staying in front of somebody and it also gives them the chance to kind of check you out and see what’s going on,” Hoey said. “Never rely on LinkedIn’s automatic text thing to make connections. Say something like, ‘Hey, great meeting you yesterday — enjoyed our conversation,’ or ‘Looking forward to our Zoom call tomorrow.’”

RELATED: Why There’s Never Been a Better Time for LinkedIn

Pay attention to how communities are showing up for each now. If you are looking for new communities to connect with, “find communities that are doing a lot for the members right now,” not the ones that have a placeholder on their websites, Hoey said. “You know that when we are out of isolation,” she said, the ones that are active now are “going to continue to care about community.”

Proceed with care. Hoey, who has a weekly #BYDN (Build Your Dream Network) Podcast, titled a recent episode, “Don’t Pause Your Networking, But Proceed With Care,” which emphasized the importance of extending empathy to others in your network. “You’ve got to realize that when you’re reaching out, there are people who are in various degrees of chaos,” Hoey said. “You also need to realize that not everyone responds to stressful, chaotic situations the same way,” she said. “There’s no shame in any way people are reacting. There’s not one answer with connecting with your network that is going to work for everybody. You need to take that other person in the place that they are in.”

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.

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