Handshakes, paper business cards and business suits are things of the past, or at least things in need of a virtual make over. That’s right. Iconic images of business networking are being upgraded to meet the needs of the online environment. However, the site of this surge in online networking may surprise you; it’s all going down in the online classroom.
The truth of the matter is that distance learning has, for several years, enabled students to make vital business contacts, receive constructive feedback and explore novel ideas within a safe environment. The opportunity to interact with like-minded professionals is not only spawning exciting, intellectual conversation within the classroom, but creating noteworthy business ventures outside of the classroom as well. As more students log on, the potential possibilities for job opportunities, business ventures and collaborative innovations reach new heights. However, online networking can prove to be more than just a benefit of distance education, but a challenging skill that requires refinement.
Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you hone your online networking skills and, possibly, make that life-changing connection.
Be aware of your setting. Communicating clearly and efficiently is a key to online networking. Therefore, if you are not familiar with the online mode of communication, take extra steps to correct this problem. Consider reviewing the online tutorial about the functions of your online classroom. Be sure to read all guidelines and instructions before entering into a discussion. As time goes on, spend some time going over archived discussions in order to gain additional insights into a topic or potential contact.
Keep contact info handy. When participating in a class discussion or chatting in a lounge, it is always a good idea to have an updated business card available online. Therefore, if a fellow student has to quickly log out of a conversation, you will be able to forward your information to him or her with just the click of a button.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread. Just like traditional networking, online networking is all about presentation. Before posting information or sending a chat response, be sure to look for errors. All information needs to be clean and concise. While this may seem simple, it is easy to forget this nominal detail due to the fast-paced nature of online interaction. It is also important to remember your tone. While statements and opinions may sound appropriate in your head, they can easily be misconstrued online. Read your message several times to ensure a proper tone is being conveyed.
Don’t dominate every discussion. Online networking is not always about being the star of the class. While you need to be attentive to your academic goals, there is no need to command attention in every class discussion or online chat session. Being selective in your commentary can show your thoughtful knowledge regarding a topic and thus, earn you more credibility.
Don’t overload the class with group emails or posts. There is a time and a place for trying to stir up interest in an outside business venture. Remember, the original, and sometimes only, intent of your fellow online students is to earn their degree. If you are interested in discussing potential opportunities and outside resources, ask interested parties to meet you in a chat room after class hours.
Create a sig line. With each electronic message, you are able to attach a signature file, or sig line. This brief line of text enables you to create an image or idea with which to associate yourself. This information provides some insight into who you are and helps potential contacts and/or clients identify you.
Be respectful. As mentioned previously, it is important to watch your tone and avoid sarcasm. Distance education offers students the opportunity to discuss and explore topics and opinions within a safe environment. Therefore, remember to always be respectful and tolerant of fellow students’ ideas and opinions. Rash remarks can quickly and easily offend other members of the class.
In the end, online networking is all about being courteous and professional. Don’t let the educational setting fool you. While earning your degree should remain your top priority, there are still real opportunities to develop productive professional relationships through your distance learning experience. Use your online learning experience to your advantage.