Article by our Co-Founder, Joanne Griffin, discusses how to develop a sense of community in an online world
Call it fate, happenstance, fortuity – we all love moments of serendipity – whether it’s browsing a shop, swiping through Pinterest, or attending a networking event, we relish the feeling of chance discoveries and interactions. Social media and networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are powered by our hunger for connection and possibility.
Most of us have been blown away by the speed at which the latest pandemic has swept the world, upended our ‘normal’ lives and disrupted our daily habits and patterns. When Ireland entered lockdown in March of this year, many entrepreneurs and business leaders watched on helplessly as business opportunities vanished before their eyes, and meetings were cancelled.
We found ourselves suddenly isolated and missing the water-cooler moments, the casual conversations that help us connect the dots, and ultimately lead to new opportunities. The hugs and handshakes that help us build rapport in new relationships replaced by over-enthusiastic waving and smiling as we work hard to appear engaged, sustain eye contact, and create connections over Zoom.
IrelandTogether, Ireland’s fastest growing business community, was born in this new remote world. While most members have never met in person, a strong sense of community has developed across its +500 members. Co-founder and COO Joanne Griffin explains ‘while technology is key to enabling us to connect and collaborate, we put members first in how we lead and evolve the community.
As small business owners ourselves, we understand the challenges being faced by Irish businesses as the economic impact of the recession unfolds. Our sentiment survey shows that only 9% of our members are very confident that they have the right support network around them. We want to address that challenge through creating connection and collaboration opportunities across the network’.
The online world is increasingly noisy – making it harder to stand out and connect with potential clients and customers. IrelandTogether has introduced non-traditional ways for members to connect– creating moments of serendipity at weekly drop-in sessions and hosting regular events that are highly participative and engaging.
One-way conversations such as webinars are banned – ‘we prefer interactive dialogue with the community where we can all connect and learn from each other’. The community also hosts a weekly CIRL (coffee in real life) one morning a week where members have a chance to connect face to face. Members are also invited to participate in larger co-creation sessions (like hackathons for grown-ups) aimed at solving some complex problems we have in common, like revised business models, attracting new customers, and scenario planning.
The results speak for themselves – new alliances and collaborations between members are growing, and members are feeling more optimistic about the future.
The sense of solidarity we get from participating in an online community is a vital source of resilience and growth for business leaders as we navigate the uncertainty together. While the degree of ambiguity we’re facing can unsettle even the most tenured leaders, there is strength and opportunity to be found in online networks. ‘My advice is to embrace moments of serendipity online – be open to new ways of connecting and collaborating’.
IrelandTogether’s top tips for networking effectively online:
- Be relationship driven – Focus on what you can offer – not what you can get from your network.
- Lead with value – In this era of ‘try before you buy’, share your knowledge freely . When things come back you will be remembered
- Every one of us has something to offer – recognise that you have value, knowledge and skills that can help others, and be open to learning from others
- Make connections – the value of a diverse community is in rounding out what you don’t know – either a new perspective or a new topic.
Leadership can emerge from anywhere in a crisis. Business leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, and government can all play a role in creating new forms of collaboration. Given the speed with which we have seen entrepreneurs and their communities doing just this in response to the current pandemic, we’re confident that Irish businesses will be able to not only build resiliency, but also restore and identify new opportunities for growth.