The word ‘Networking’ has seen better days. Apart from it’s anachronistic and cringey vibe— which brings to mind awkward small-talk and sweaty hand-shakes— it is also heavily linked to in-person events, one of the hardest-hit sectors of the pandemic. In the absence of real-life encounters, networking seemed to have lost its meaning.
But take the word and strip it of its previous connotations, and you’re left with what is at its core: connections, friendships, community, and new opportunities.
Those are just as important as they used to be, and still part of our lives—even in our mostly online world.
To reexamine the concept of networking and explore what it means nowadays, we chatted with different creatives from various fields, who (thankfully) shared their thoughts and experiences regarding online connections.
Networking: not just for extroverts
It’s a common misconception that networking is only for those of us who are social animals, you know, those who naturally thrive in big crowds and have a way with every person they meet. Though that may have been the case in the past, introverts are now benefitting massively from the shift to the online world. Making connections and building relationships is now a much more accessible experience—for everyone.
Kezia Gabriella: art director, illustrator, and studio director at ANTINORMAL in Singapore. She describes herself as “an extremely shy and introverted person,” and provides a different outlook as to what it means to network in today’s world. “I don't think of myself as someone who is good at building a network. Having connections is definitely great, and when I was a fresh graduate, I did think that networking is one of the top priority skills that you would need in order to land a job. But when I joined the industry, I realized that some people (including me) just simply have zero networking skills. The idea of having to be in touch with people, attending conferences, and talking about who you are and what you do for a living—makes me anxious. I have long accepted that the 'conventional' idea of building a network in the creative industry does not work for me.”
Omer Polak: a Berlin-based interdisciplinary artist and designer, who uses collaborations as a main practice, and so networking is more second-nature to him. “The guiding principles and the main approach in the way we work in the studio, and also on a personal level, is through collaborations. They are the main motivations for projects, and what will determine whether the project is successful or not. Apart from inspiration, learning, and development, there are also important business aspects in working together with others. I am a people person, and so, making friends and business connections is something I find enjoyable, but only if it comes from a place of genuine interest. I’d say most of my network is built from acquaintances that are colleagues and friends in the creative circles in which I operate.”
Redefining the idea of networking
In the past, networking was all about the professional: new business opportunities, new jobs, new projects, climbing the career ladder. The rise of social-media platforms, and the shift to online connections, meant that connections are being made and explored not solely for the purpose of work alone, but for building our sense of community and belonging, and finding our inspiration through those new online friends.
Kezia says, “I love listening to people, exchanging tips and ideas, observing what they do and taking pointers about what they like and dislike, which I think can be considered as an act of networking in itself, although it's more a passive, back-seat role. The rise of online platforms and social media has helped me tons in channeling this passive way of networking into something more. For example, I could be scrolling through Instagram stories and seeing another artist is currently reading a book that I like, or asking for art tool recommendations, and this type of common interest is usually my stepping stone for a conversation starter. Introducing yourself and talking to a stranger is usually nerve-wracking, but when you know what you have in common, they don't feel like a stranger anymore. And the conversation ends up being more organic which eases my anxiety, instead of having to bear the burden of building new connections for the sake of networking itself.”
The creative industry is (unfortunately) notorious for making newcomers feel as though it is an impenetrable fortress. The shift from personal introductions based on actual relationships, to ones generated online based on no previous encounters, has made it easier for all of us.
Multidisciplinary designer Alice Redfearn shares on the topic, “The concept of networking is an uncomfortable one for me, but it is incredibly important. I come from a working-class background and had absolutely no connections through friends or family into the creative industry. For me, networking was an incredibly vital part of breaking into the creative industry. I believe that in the right way, networking can be a more organic and genuine process. I network by going to listen to people talk about their passions—attending workshops to learn new skills and processes, and there I meet others and form natural connections. I don’t go in expecting to network or gain contacts, because that doesn’t work for me.”
Mixing the old and the new
As in so many other practices, combining old ideas with new methods ultimately produces the best results. Making new connections is no different, and so, allowing for both offline and online encounters to take place is always a good mix.
Kezia says, “Building connections has become more flexible and can take place on any platform—I could be waiting for a dentist appointment and landing a new gig via Twitter at the same time. But, I could also be working at a coffee shop and a stranger might ask me if I can do a mural for his office space. I don't really feel that there's one form of networking that is more superior than another. We now live in both the offline and online worlds, so it only makes sense that we build networks through both. I think it's more important to find a space that you're comfortable with.” Omer adds, “As I've said before, I am a people person, and real life connections are very important to me. I find the creative process very intimate, so I totally believe there must be a personal connection, and not just through screens and online communications. You wouldn't go to bed with someone just by looks and no real chemistry, right? I find it quite similar, sharing a design process is a bit like sharing a sexual experience. That being said, I think the new order, in which most of the communication takes place in virtual worlds, is not terrible. We can combine the two approaches—if the communication starts online, it can develop in real life quite well from my own experience.”
From Insta post to a collaborative project
What better way to get inspired to just go and make a friend online, than real success stories of online networking that began with a simple like or comment, and turned into something much bigger?
Omer shares, “Many of the projects we are working on in the studio have actually come through online connections. Social media, and especially Instagram, serve me as a kind of portfolio. Projects can get huge exposure within a few hours, and as a result, there are various inquiries regarding collaborations. Next month for example, I'm putting on a show that's a dance between robots, food, and human gestures, for Martini Moscow. This is a very big project that started from an Insta post!”
Kezia says, “Almost all my work comes from online connections. One of the most fascinating encounters was the latest music video that I produced for The Greeting Committee. It started when Addie, the vocalist of the band, messaged me on Instagram asking if it's possible for me to take a custom order for an old print of mine. Somehow along the way, she told me that she was in a band, and she told her manager about my work as they would like me to make an animation for their new single. I found it interesting as I never expected that my online shop would lead to an entirely different gig. Another thing that happened to me recently was during an RCA Animation Grad Show 2021 online, which included many speakers that I admire. After the talks, I decided to reach out to one of them, and we ended up talking about plants, music, and the possibility of making animation together. It was such a nice experience, which I personally feel worked better for me compared to a real-life conference.”
Tips, advice, dos and don’ts
Finally, we’ll leave you with some top tips on how to master online connections and expanding your online community:
Omer says, "Be brave, don’t be shy, value yourself, initiate, and do not hesitate to send emails and message those whose help you desire. Take yourself seriously, send a detailed email with your requirements. Be focused and try to find concrete ways to move forward. Messages that arrive without targeting can simply disappear. Creativity is an expensive resource and not easy to obtain, remember that big companies and major players also need you.”
Kezia shares, “I think it's important to find a common ground that will allow connection to happen. What's relevant about your work that connects you with the other person—I think this applies to any kind of interaction, whether you're looking for opportunities or just simply asking for advice. In the digital era, people now wear their interests on their sleeves, so I think it helps as a conversation starter.”
Alice adds, “My advice would be to let your passion guide you. People can really tell when you’re genuinely passionate about something and the right people will be excited by that. Don’t focus on what you think people want to see or hear, and instead focus on what it is that you enjoy.”