Virtual Networking: A Trend That Shouldn’t End

Written by Ilissa Miller | CEO at iMiller Public Relations (iMPR)

When global economies are disrupted, people adapt and innovation occurs. With a global pandemic causing major disruptions to traditional business operations, the world has to adapt — and it is. We all know that the internet keeps us tethered together, but when physical connections such as in-person meetings and conferences and events are shut down, an alternative way of meeting new people is required.

Virtual networking is an advent driven by the need to allow individuals to grow their personal network connections and, in turn, drive awareness and opportunities to learn and solve problems together. Many existing working groups were created to solve some technical industry problems, and platforms such as LinkedIn provide an easy way to identify potential people worth meeting. Yet none of that can truly replace that person-to-person, physical relationship.

Industry trade shows, conferences and events provide opportunities for people to reconnect with existing customers and prospects and to identify new people who could drive business opportunities. In the “viral age,” adapting how we do business is a necessity — this includes how we may meet new people to do business with. For companies in the communications infrastructure sector — which are considered a critical service in today’s digitally reliant world — network deployments, connectivity and the issues and opportunities requiring network infrastructure connectivity don’t go away.  In reality, they have increased quite dramatically.

Virtual Networking

In March of 2020, I implemented a virtual networking series aimed to replace in-person networking with virtual networking using a video-based platform that enables up to 100 people to be online with video in a single session. Orchestrating a networking event of this magnitude is no easy feat. You need the people — those individuals who need and want to meet others. You need technology accessible to the masses. You need a facilitator who can “work the room.” Bringing up to 100 people together for an open discussion can quickly get chaotic, so rules of engagement are necessary.

Mixing It Up: Virtual Style

Virtual networking requires a moderator that understands the market so that a strong mix of services and solutions can be highlighted, shared and discussed among a large group of people. In doing so, you expand the ability to educate a greater number of people in a single sitting, inspiring them to think about what they do differently.

When you know an ecosystem and how it works, individuals and companies can have a greater understanding of how the life cycle of business operations may be impacted by a pandemic. These insights provide a more complete picture of the world. Companies that have an existing inventory are relying on their planning and foresight to block, tackle and implement much-needed solutions for businesses. However, when these supplies run out, the industry’s ability to quickly implement new solutions and connections will also slow down.

Facilitating A Virtual Networking Session

Planning is key. As the moderator of the event, I require all participants to register in advance. This allows me to research the companies and individuals signed up to ensure a lively and interesting conversation can take place. I then draft questions based on the immediate issues and concerns of the week. Once these questions are identified, the call is ready to begin.

My format is twofold: The calls are opened and the premise is shared, and I then call upon participants who are on video and have expressed interest in being introduced. Then, at the 30-minute mark, I transition to a discussion based on questions and comments previously shared among the participants.

Following each session, the list of participants, along with the recorded call, is made available. Sharing everyone’s information is indeed the magic that makes this all a reality. Consider this: When you go to a conference or event and meet new people, you exchange a business card. These business cards become yours to follow up with after the event. Most often, only a few of these cards are truly viable and actionable business opportunities while the rest are contacts that grow your network. The same concept applies to virtual networking. While everyone on the attendee list is not a viable business opportunity, there may be a few that are. The rest are contacts for you to build your personal network and brand and to expand reach to the market together.

What’s Old Is New Again

As with every industry, business models cycle in and out depending on the evolution of the world. The communications infrastructure industry is no different. As many companies are being tested with a lack of in-office capabilities, remote working, mass shutdowns of operations and more, the CARES Act can only do so much. Businesses must be made aware of all opportunities available to them so they can plan their operational return and become stronger than ever before.

In a virtual networking session in March, the idea of network optimization came up. A business model that provides enterprises the opportunity to have their network infrastructure inventoried, analyzed and redesigned to create network efficiencies and cost reductions was discussed. On the contemporary business front, data center infrastructure funds are making themselves available to buy underutilized data center assets, removing the capital expenditures from a business’s financial records and converting their costs to operational expenses. This reduces carry costs while increasing access to money. These models are just two ways the communications infrastructure industry is ready to help enterprise businesses maximize and monetize their existing assets while saving money and creating more efficiencies so they can focus on their core businesses.

There’s no doubt that many more of these opportunities are available for companies to consider — without having to go through painstaking approval processes.