two people waving at each other through a video call
PHOTO: adobe stock

Like most people, I’ve acclimatized to working from home and have even come to terms with video being an essential part of my work life. Decisions related to getting to the office or meetings have essentially been boiled down to decisions about how casual I’m going to appear on Zoom and when I’m going to schedule in a walk with the dog. I feel like I’ve got this WFH thing down and expect I’ll move to a hybrid work environment post-pandemic. 

What Will Networking Look Like in the Future?

Now that the novelty of working from home has worn off, I’ve started to think about what networking will look like in the future. Networks and networking are critical to career and company growth. I’m as introverted as they come, but have made an effort to build and nurture my professional network. And while I find LinkedIn a great tool for keeping track of my contacts it’s not usually where I find my connections. My best connections have come from industry-related or peer in-person events where a conversation has uncovered shared interests and goals, or through warm introductions when I’ve leveraged my network to ask for help with a challenge I was facing.

It doesn’t look like in-person networking events are coming back any time soon. We tried this summer with Marketing Technology in the Hub in Boston. It was so wonderful to see everyone face-to-face but once we had to move inside because of rain it became uncomfortable for the group and particularly for those with young children at home.

We need to rethink networking in the same way we’ve had to rethink working. I don’t think LinkedIn, at least in its current state, is the answer. Make no mistake, I couldn’t live without LinkedIn. It’s a wonderful tool to manage my connections, share information with my network, and keep up to date on people and companies I follow. When I work to connect with someone on LinkedIn or someone tries to connect with me it is in most cases because the originating party wants something or more specifically, wants to sell something. Despite the formulaic "I think we have a lot in common" invites, LinkedIn connection requests are rarely about developing a meaningful relationship.

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Event Companies Take on Virtual Networking 

To their credit, event companies whose world was completely turned upside down by the pandemic and had to move from in-person to virtual events, quickly embraced new tools for virtual networking. Today there is a large selection of networking tools to choose from. Some are designed specifically for virtual conference events, some try to replicate an in-person network environment, others use algorithms to match participants, and some leverage communal activities such as virtual wine tasting to bring people together. One company, Hio, has even coined the phrase “Networking as a Service (NaaS).” Examples include:

This list of products is longer than I expected — and that’s exciting. These are some of the companies that will remake networking for all of us. As is often the case in a nascent market that is building on an established market, much of what these companies do is an attempt to replicate the in-person experience (for example: creating virtual tables to congregate around). These companies haven’t yet freed themselves from the restrictions of traditional networking, but I’m confident that some or all will get there.

New Solutions to Traditional Networking

Other companies are trying to be radically different. Clubhouse is one of those. I like the concept of Clubhouse and see the value in congregating around topics of interest but find the whole experience overwhelming. I’ve failed completely in navigating around the application and have limited my participation to accepting invitations that other people send me.

A friend of mine, Melis Dural, founder of EKOS.ai, is also working to reimagine how we network. She’s had an extensive career as an executive recruiter and is a LinkedIn power user. She talks regularly about how we collect connections on LinkedIn like baseball cards but then don’t nurture and engage with the vast majority of them. Her goal at EKOS.ai is to bring those baseball cards to life by facilitating what she refers to as netting — collecting and engaging with high-value connections in support of developing meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships.  

With EKOS, the goal is to use AI to seamlessly match individual users with others who have similar interests, who are active in similar industry verticals, who consume similar content, and who have similar professional objectives, and to do so in a way that you never miss a meaningful connection that belongs in your network. EKOS is starting off leveraging audio and video for networking with the ultimate goal of integrating virtual reality into the platform. I find this exciting as I’ve been playing with my daughter’s Oculus headset and can’t wait to see a compelling business application for VR. EKOS is about to open up a private beta, I’ve signed up and am looking forward to seeing what they have to offer. I hope that you’ll join me so I have colleagues to network with in its environment.

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Networking Is Ripe for Innovation

The thing I love most about marketing technology is the rate of innovation. Networking is a category ripe for innovation so you should definitely stay abreast of what’s happening in this category not just for what it can do for you personally, but also for the potential it has to strengthen your customer relationships.

Two weeks ago, I was chatting with my sister about all sorts of things and it suddenly became clear that for both of us when we think about technological advancement our guidepost is still Star Trek. Deep down, we both believe that if they could do it on Star Trek then it will ultimately be possible. To that end, we are hoping to be transported off the planet someday which will enable a whole new opportunity for networking. Beam me up Scottie!

Final note — I’m ridiculously excited that Captain Kirk (aka William Shatner) will have the opportunity to go into space and am hoping the Blue Origin team will name the mission Enterprise. Just sayin’.