How To Build Real Relationships In The Virtual World


Day 10: Make human connections in the digital age. This post is part of Forbes’ Career Challenge: Build Stronger Relationships In 15 Days.

Let’s face it. Networking has moved online. And that’s great news. Professional associations provide you with venues to get to know people in your local community, but that’s limiting. The web affords you an opportunity to connect globally with people who share your interests and passions. You can greatly expand your network through social media and online communities.

But it’s not all upside. The web has one big drawback: It’s harder to connect on a human level with people when they exist in two dimensions on your computer screen or mobile device. You need to work extra hard to make sure you’re interacting in a way that allows you to build genuine, meaningful relationships.

People want to work with colleagues they know, like and trust. When building professional relationships with people online, consider the intersection of these three qualities: transparency, likability and credibility. Transparency lets people get to know you, while likability reflects their interest in you and credibility builds trust.

So how do you demonstrate those qualities in your virtual networking so you can build strong, enduring relationships? Follow these three steps.

Step 1: Brand your bios. Online, your bio takes many forms, from your LinkedIn profile summary to your 160-character Twitter bio. Infuse your online bios with humanity. Your social media bios are a longer version of the elevator pitch you use to connect with people in the real world. But unlike your elevator pitch, which sets up a conversation with those you are meeting, your bio is more of a soliloquy. So it must be more than a statement or a list of accomplishments and credentials. It needs to be a story that gets the reader to want to know you and to learn more about you.

Remember, your bio needs to work harder in the virtual world to build a real connection. To make it transparent, don’t be coy or guarded. Be direct and human. Include your values and your point of view. To make it likable, share your passions and differentiation—your secret sauce. Make it more than just details about your current role and job responsibilities—that’s boring!

Pay special attention to your LinkedIn profile summary. It will likely be the most read version of your bio. When writing it, focus on the first three sentences—they’re all someone sees when they get to your profile to learn about you. Make sure the start of your bio is magnetic and will entice viewers to click “see more” so they can get the full story.

Make your bios authentic, compelling and human—because that’s how people can form a great impression of you, and you know how important first impressions are. Don’t work to build online relationships until you’re really pleased with your online bios. 

Step 2: Engage in active discussions. In a face-to-face professional meeting, the most fruitful interactions come from lively discussions. The same is true in the bits-and-bytes world of networking. To participate in these discussions, first identify the people you want to get to know. Then follow or connect with them. Make it a point to read their updates and postings.

One of the most powerful places to engage in discussions with like-minded professionals is via LinkedIn groups. When you join a group—it’s like an online professional association—you connect yourself with others interested in a specific topic. Build relationships with the people in groups you respect and whose point of view interests you. To do this, interact with their content regularly by liking, commenting on and sharing it with your connections and with other groups. Provide a heaping dose of gratitude and appreciation so that your connections use the heart as well as the brain. 

Step 3: Build social proof. You must convince people that you’re worth knowing. On the web, that means getting others to speak on your behalf. Even with the best intentions, it’s easy to come off as a little self-centered on the web because conversations aren’t as natural as they are in face-to-face situations. To temper your self-proclamations and build credibility through the words of others, focus on these elements:

  • Testimonials: Testimonials and recommendations go a long way to tell people you’re worth knowing. Get LinkedIn recommendations—at least two for your current role and one for each of your previous roles. Seek to be quoted in trade publications related to your area of expertise. And remember, the person providing the recommendation is as important as the recommendation itself. Benefit from brand association by including testimonials from leaders in your field.
  • Social actions: When you post content online, choose words that will make it visible to your ideal audience and encourage comments. Whether you post a blog to LinkedIn, a video to YouTube or a presentation to SlideShare, take the amount of time it took you to create your content and double that effort to boost visibility and engagement. The “stickier” your content, the more people will reach out to you to become a part of your brand community. And always thank and acknowledge others who respond to your content. That will help you form relationships.

Other tips for building real relationships online:

  • When connecting on LinkedIn, customize your outgoing message—making it more personal.
  • Use video. Video is the next best thing to being there because it allows you to deliver a complete communication. A video bio can help you connect more deeply with someone, and using Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts for meetings instead of phone calls or email can go far to forge more human connections.
  • Carve out time to stay connected. Online relationships require nurturing just as much as (if not more than) those in the real world. Add nurturing activities to your calendar and do-list every day.
  • Include your contacts in things you post online. One way to stay connected and give value to your online relationships is by mentioning them or quoting them in your online content.
  • Acknowledge and thank. A virtual pat on the back goes a long way to building relationships. The LinkedIn Kudos feature is a good place to start.
  • Make the real, virtual. Bring your real-world connections into the online world. Add your connections in LinkedIn—using it as the one-stop-shop for all your professional relationships. Don’t treat virtual as separate and distinct from real. This will help you stay connected with the person you met at a professional association event in between regular in-person meetings.

Building deep connections with people is more challenging in the virtual world, but it’s not impossible. To make it happen, add heart to your interactions and connect regularly.

Ready for the next challenge? Tune in on November 12 for Day 11.

Miss a challenge? Click here for Day 9: Give before you get.


William Arruda is the cofounder of CareerBlast and creator of custom LinkedIn backgrounds that will help your LinkedIn profile stand out and express your brand.

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