One of the main reasons people attend conferences is for the opportunity to network with fellow attendees and speakers face to face. As technology advances what does the future of business networking look like?

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Whether you work remotely on a freelance basis or you’ve been forced to work from home due to unforeseen circumstances, you may not always be able to meet with potential connections in person. Here’s what the future of business networking will look like, and what I see as some key benefits: 

Virtual business networking: The new trend

According to Business Network International (BNI) founder Dr. Ivan Misner, the introduction of the internet “…ironically contributed to the success of face-to-face networks by reducing the communication hierarchy and allowing people to communicate through online platforms”.

This sparked a trend in business networking which is referred to as “mixed reality”. Within the realm of personal networking, mixed reality is the merging of real and virtual worlds where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. The future of networking means leveraging virtual connections by engaging live whether you meet in person or not.

Online networking shouldn’t replace face-to-face events, but there are some definite advantages. Here are a few benefits to online business networking:

1. There is little to no physical presence required

Making use of online networking platforms allows busy professionals to attend events and does not require travel to a location in the middle of a busy workday. Business networking platforms like 4Networking Online, BNI Online, Women in Business Networking, and NRG Networking are designed to suit your routine, schedule and habits. This flexibility is especially valuable if you’re a working parent who can’t attend in-person events but can log in from the comfort of your home.

Simply set up your account, jazz up your profile and start making connections.

2. Access to unlimited connections

Similar to being present on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, having people willing to connect with you is effectively social proof or an endorsement of your professional ability. You may not have time to attend multiple networking events every month, but business networking platforms are open 24/7 so there is no limit to the number of people you can reach out to. You can connect with two or 200 prospects in just one day.

Even if you were to attend events and meet people face to face, you wouldn’t be able to introduce yourself and have an authentic conversation with 200 attendees. You would have to pick and choose who you wanted to meet – a problem that online solves with the click of a button.

3. Accessibility

With a stable internet connection, you can attend scheduled events anywhere in the world. I do a networking event every day online and it’s exciting to see that, for the first time in history, geographical borders don’t matter. One week I’m at BNI Chicago and the next I’m attending BNI in Croatia, there truly are no limits.  

Zoom certainly dominates the market and nearly all networking events I’ve attended recently have used this platform. It has breakout room functionality and co-hosting abilities which ensure a smooth, well organised meeting. I have also seen a drastic increase in LinkedIn and social media platform use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s great is that it’s not just large enterprises that have the means to conduct business on a global scale anymore. It’s easier than ever to connect and stay connected with the various platforms that are at our disposal, even if you’re a small- to medium-sized company.

4. Saves you time  

An important aspect of attending networking events is visibility. Meeting and communicating with potential clients on a regular basis is crucial to your business staying top of mind, so it’s no surprise that many professionals think you cannot grow the same quality relationships online.

Yes, it may take a little longer to get to know someone online, however the increased capacity and advancements in video calling software make it easier than ever to develop true, meaningful online. What’s more, joining an online business network provide you access to an already curated and hand-picked pool of like-minded businesspeople, which means you’ll receive more valuable leads and spend less time doing it.

The ability to constantly engage with connections in real time without having to attend in-person meetings can save you hours that would otherwise be spent over coffee or luncheons. 

Online networking doesn’t have to take the place of face-to-face networking events, but there are definite advantages to incorporating a bit of both and existing in this mixed reality, for both businesses and individuals.

What have you done to create virtual networking opportunities for your clients? Let me know in the comments.

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