This conference season feels a bit different, doesn't it? Where we're usually globetrotting from event to event, this year most conferences have either postponed their dates or switched to online, remote-friendly formats, offering video sessions by top-notch speakers or live streams with open chats. But what about everyone's favorite bonus during conference season — networking?
Thankfully, all is not lost! With a little ingenuity and virtual elbow grease, you can still forge new professional relationships over an internet connection rather than a cocktail. (And hey, nothing's stopping you from enjoying a nice, frosty Mozcow Mule or tasty mocktail in your home office space, right?) In our current reality of social distancing, marketing conference networking will look different, but it's not going anywhere. Read on for tips on how to effectively network while remote!
Step 1: Look for networking opportunities
Depending on which virtual event you attend, the networking opportunities will look different. Keeping a creative eye out for opportunity is key to your success!
Much like during regular conferences, there are bound to be live chats happening. They may happen on the actual event platform, or they may take place on social media. Some events will use a platform like Zoom that allows viewers to chat with each other within the platform, while others may have more of a broadcast format where chats happen on Twitter with a hashtag.
A super valuable aspect of conferences is being able to speak to presenters after they give their talk. Sometimes this happens during a predetermined time slot, such as right after the presentation, or it may happen when you catch them in the lobby or at an event later on. Either way, this time to ask questions about their expertise is a huge value-add to the experience.
With conferences going virtual and live chats happening publicly during the presentations, this Q&A time has shifted a bit. Instead of having to wait for the presentation to be over, in some cases, presenters will reply to questions from the live chat as they're speaking. Some panels are pre-recorded, giving speakers a chance to interact on various platforms during the event itself. Some events will even have specific “presentations” that are more like facilitated Ask Me Anything-style interviews or panels where questions are taken from the audience and posed to the speaker(s).
Birds of a Feather discussions
Many conferences will offer some sort of industry or concept specific conversation facilitation. For instance, at MozCon, we host Birds of a Feather discussions. These discussions are headed up by an industry professional and have predetermined topics such as EAT, AI, Gutenberg, etc. Other times, these conversations may be organized and headed up by attendees.
In a virtual setting, these will likely be smaller breakout groups using some sort of video chat software. Zoom, specifically, has created a way for conferences to organize these “breakout sessions” in advance.
Birds of a Feather conversations are one of the best ways to connect as there is a common ground established from the get-go. These. Are. Your. People. Connections here will likely be the most valuable.
Step 2: Get active
No matter where the chats are happening, be sure you're a part of them! The more you interact, the more likely people are to recognize your name when you reach out after the event. The only caution here is that you have to be sure your interactions are meaningful — don’t just comment clapping hands. Add something to the conversation.
The best thing about people is that we're all different and have fresh perspectives to bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to add on to someone’s thoughts.
Let's use a fun example. If someone says that the best mascot hug ever was from Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, you may jump in and ask if they’ve ever met Roger MozBot, famed hugger and robot dancer extraordinaire. Or you could build on the thought by saying something like, “Mickey is a great hugger, I think it’s because he goes over instead of under!”
In both of these instances, you’ve joined the conversation and added value.
Speakers often try to fit a lot of information into a relatively short timeframe. That said, questions will likely arise in the live chats. This could very easily be your time to shine! If you've got knowledge to share, feel free to answer the question to the best of your ability and try to add clarification.
This is absolutely one of the best ways to position yourself as an expert and form a relationship with someone you’ve never met. It allows you to prove you’re knowledgable and give the person something they value for free.
Whether you are asking a question, answering a question, or just chiming in with added insight, adding resources in conversation is extremely beneficial. This could mean that you recommend a tool, a person, or an article link. These resources for the other viewers can be extremely beneficial and help you establish your credibility.
Now, we don’t suggest trying to come up with a source for everything, but if you have one right off of the top of your head, dropping a link in the chat may really help someone.
BONUS: Add people on social
While this one's not necessarily about adding value per se, it is about adding. Adding influencers, presenters, or other attendees after interacting with them (even if briefly) may increase your chances of getting a follow-back or accepted request as you'll still be top of mind. Try to add people no later than 24 hours after your last interaction, and consider sending a friendly "hey!" with a note about what you spoke about to keep the connection fresh.
Step 3: Perfect your follow-up
After connecting with people during the online conference, you'll want to follow up with them and stay in touch.
The most important part of following up is the first impression. You don’t want to come right out of the gate with a request of any sort. Instead, look to build a relationship first. This could mean shooting a quick follow-up message recapping your conversation with the person, telling them that you appreciated their time and that you look forward to more conversations.
After sending your initial follow-up, be sure to interact with the person at least once a week to stay top-of-mind. This is easiest on social media as you can like, comment, share their content, and ensure that your name is showing up in their notifications. However, direct messages, emails, and even phone calls are sure to be more impactful.
The best thing you can do when following up is to stick to what you're most comfortable with and be consistent while continuing to add value.
Have fun and be yourself!
The number-one thing you have to offer is yourself. Your experiences make you unique and others can learn from that! So when you are connecting with others, just remember to be yourself. And lastly, have fun! Networking is meant to be fun as it gives you the opportunity to connect with others and build a community. Embrace that connection and enjoy it.
Networking at MozCon Virtual
Every year, we hear from attendees about how networking is one of their favorite parts of the conference. We made sure to keep it an integral part of this year's virtual event, too — check out all the ways you can connect with speakers, industry experts, attendees, and thought leaders at MozCon Virtual 2020!
In-session Q&A chat
Mid-presentation, pop into the Q&A chat with your real-time questions and get them answered by speakers. You'll also be able to chat with other attendees about the content, provide your own insights, and participate in real-time virtual convos about the session and topic. Speakers will be available to answer questions during their scheduled session times, so it's a perfect opportunity to get clarification, further insight, or forge those all-important connections!
Customizable profiles: Interests, personal bio, tags, and more
Attendees can search for like-minded folks with similar interests based on what you add to your profile when signing in. You can choose to upload your photo, create your biography, add specific interests and tags, and reach out to those you'd like to follow up with.
Create your own "Want-to-Meet" list
Browse attendee profiles and click "want to meet" when you find someone you'd like to reach out to later. With your personal contact info safely hidden, this is a great way to find and get found by those looking for new talent, professional partnerships, debate buddies, and more. Build your list ahead of time, then review in-platform and reach out when you're ready!
Schedule 1:1 meetings
After connecting with someone, you can easily send a meeting request to the folks you've connected with to chat live outside of the bigger group discussions. Your invited guest can choose to accept or decline the invite, and all 1:1 meetings occur directly within the conference platform's meeting rooms, making for easy facilitation!
Birds of a Feather "table" discussions
Birds of a Feather lunch tables are one of the biggest MozCon hits year after year, and we didn't want anyone to miss out! We'll facilitate 30-minute-long group discussions each day of the conference for you to connect with those interested in specific topics via video and audio chat. Each discussion will be led by an industry leader, giving you all the opportunity to say "hey" to the folks whose work you admire and collaborate with them on ideas, theories, obstacles you've faced, and more.
We're super excited about all the networking opportunities at MozCon Virtual — at $129 per ticket, it's an incredible value for growing your digital marketing skillset and your career:
Let us know your own best virtual networking tips in the comments. We hope to see you at MozCon this July 14 & 15!