I love networking! I am constantly trying to meet new people and connect others in the industry.
Pre-pandemic, you could find me at most vacation rental industry conferences events shmoozing, brainstorming, and hugging nonstop (boy do I look forward to those days again).
But since networking has become virtual as a result of the pandemic, I decided to reflect back and share some of the big virtual networking lessons I've learned from the last 10 years in our vacation rental owners forum.
1. Know each platform's strength
Social media platforms represent one kind of the virtual networking arena. Twitter for journalists, LinkedIn for fellow professionals, Facebook for general population. Virtual networking on social media means building “loose ties” or people in your orbit: they are widely adopted and have the most users, the best functionality, and represent the easiest way to get started.
Semi-public and private forums or virtual communities. These communities exist for most industries and interest groups. Typically run by passionate leaders, have their own sub-cultures, and typically require a self-qualifying hurdle (such as price or registration) to gain entry: this hurdle means fewer people to interact with, but the subject matter is more focused.
2. The pace of virtual networking is slower (than in-person)
Forming relationships online takes much more time than bumping into someone at conference happy hour. Virtual is less about chance encounters and more about choosing the right arenas (see #1) and establishing your reputation with gestures over time. While a rapid introduction is nice, it’s the slow burn of likes, comments, shares, private messages, phone calls, and emails over time that really strengthens the virtual bond.
3. Sign up for newsletters
Unless you have been privately introduced to someone with their permission (in which case I have found asking a question or favor is much better accepted) it helps to sign up for their newsletter (if they have one) and then let the recipient know your main goals. It also really helps to wow your recipient with your research about them: do some sleuthing to convey you are authentically interested. Cold sales pitches may land the odd deal but they rarely form meaningful connections. Just be careful laying it on too heavy up front. I have burned plenty of bridges that way.
4. Invest in a great headshot
Hiring a professional portrait photographer for your virtual networking headshot is worth its weight in gold -- this is probably the best virtual networking idea in this list. Think of the investment like the clothes you’d wear to a real-life networking event. Appearances matter. Not unlike a wardrobe makeover, I only really felt this after I made the upgrade. This is also a fantastic vacation rental marketing asset (for your listings, email signature, and website).
5. Earn social capital by helping (not selling)
One of the best ways I've found to attract high-quality virtual colleagues is by participating in the conversation -- posting original thoughts that can help others. When someone finds it useful they’ll associate good juju with your name (and feel inclined to help you when the time comes!) Reciprocity is a powerful thing. In fact, I'd say ‘being helpful’ is the currency of virtual networking, for me. When possible, I jump into a conversation with a unique perspective, participate in a survey or poll, or compliment someone on a success. Virtual relationships are a two way street. You have to give in order to get.
Need some 'helpfulness' ideas?
6. Vague questions get vague answers
The better your question, the better answers will be. "What property management software do you use?" should be drilled down to "I have X properties and need a property management software that does X really well" Or even further, "I currently use X software, want something that can do Y, as I plan on growing to Z." Anticipate any potential clarifications. Before posting your question, ask yourself "can this question be improved?"
And be careful with your expectations in terms of speed of response: many people with the best answers are busy and it may take them a few days or weeks to respond. Seek thoughtful answers to cut through noise.
7. Try to avoid toxic environments
Social media is an advertisement-driven business model, which means your attention is the currency. The longer the platform can keep you there, the better completely independent of the quality or purpose of your interaction.
As should be no surprise, in order to hold your attention, social media platforms reward content that evokes reactions (as opposed to rewarding content that solves problems). And as a result, they are prone to noise, polarization, and inflammatory rhetoric. Be careful when you find yourself consuming too much of this stuff: at least for me, I've found it can infiltrate my brain and waste precious time.
8. Follow the leaders
"You are an average of the 5 people closest to you online." So try to surround yourself virtually with high quality individuals in order to grow by osmosis. Don't know where to go? Ask the leaders where they spend their time networking! The best place for this are private forums like VRMB Communities or Lay My Hat where long-time members lead by example and a clearly-established tone of professionalism and respect ostracizes toxic actors (see #7).
Leaders participate in skilled dialogue: multiple perspectives giving texture to any conversation. Participants of these groups don’t aim to win arguments, they aim to add perspective. Moderators are able to nip chaos in the bud. And while posts may be fewer (and slower in response time) the nature of the discussion is often deeper.
9. Connect two strangers
I love playing the role of connector and it works best when the individuals (you're connecting) share the same unique challenge or vantage point (instant convo starter) and even better when there’s a particularly pressing common topic at hand. The karma of introducing two people who go on to work together is always traced back to you. If you want to meet someone in particular, reach out to a mutual vacation rental industry contact -- it's a great way to ease into the connections.
10. Find a mentor or accountability partner
I've benefitted from both kinds of people in my life a great deal and every one started virtually. But not simultaneously. Each had its own place and time. I needed a mentor when I got started in the hospitality sector, for instance. I needed an accountability partner (after that) to hold me to my plan. Mentors have provided feedback on big decisions that changed the trajectory of my career. Accountability partners have made sure I do what I say I'm gonna do (and vice versa).
For a new industry like ours where any owner or manager can eliminate TIME & MISSTEPS simply by asking the experienced individual, I'm surprised how few mentors and accountability partners seem to exist.
How to Find A Mentor
Identify a vacation rental professional who has accomplished everything you desire: your model of vacation rental success. When the time is right, have your specific questions refined and ready to present. Allow their responses to demonstrate their commitment.
How to Find An Accountability Partner
Identify someone with a similar job title who shows a good attitude, strong work ethic, and the equal desire to be held accountable. Have a basic plan for how often you will meet. And have penalties for not following through. (They needn't be in our industry although that helps.)
In all instances, virtually network with people you admire and respect.
Aim to transition your virtual relationships into real-life ones with phone calls, zoom chats, and eventually those industry events, which are worth their weight in gold. I, for one, cannot wait for them to resume.