They say it’s not what you know but who you know. The business connections you make can give you fresh ideas, help you to form strategic partnerships, and open doors to overcome hurdles. But what happens when your top channels for meeting new people aren’t pandemic-friendly? How can you network if conferences, cocktail hours, and lunch-and-learns are canceled? There are ways to connect with other professionals in your field despite the global pandemic. Follow these tips to connect on a deeper, more meaningful level with people who are eager to interact with you, too. Look for Niche Facebook Communities Social media is a great place to connect with people and make friends with former strangers. However, with an increasing number of options and channels, it’s hard to know which social outlets to pursue. A great place for connecting and networking is the Facebook Groups feature, which has seen a renaissance during the pandemic as like-minded people come together over highly specific interests and professions. Check out a few groups related to your industry and market along with general networking groups in your region. You can post industry news or interesting articles that create healthy debates. Eventually, your conversations might move from Facebook to email, phone, or Zoom meetings. Along with Facebook, you can also explore subreddits, LinkedIn groups, and certain Twitter hashtags to meet like-minded professionals. You can connect with people directly on these channels or use social networks as jumping-off points to discover webinars and virtual networking meetings related to your industry or target market. Find Out Which Conferences Are Virtual If you rely on conferences for networking, marketing, and lead generation, then find out which events have gone digital to support attendees and vendors. At the start of the pandemic, ZDnet created a guide for technology conferences that had been canceled, delayed, or converted to virtual. There are more than 100 conferences on the list, from Comic Con to the BlackBerry Security Summit. You can get an idea from this list which conferences are worth attending through their virtual events. If you attend conferences within your industry’s niche, check the social channels and websites of these events to see if they’re offering any digital opportunities. You might still be able to connect and learn through virtual channels. If you do choose to attend an online conference, make sure it offers social opportunities for attendees. You can connect with people through virtual parties and mixers to get similar networking benefits as you would in person. Offer Something Unique to Attract Leads For many B2B brands, conferences play an important part in growing the company’s brand name and driving leads. Sales teams and executives have had to rethink how they promote their brands without a conference hall full of 10,000 people to talk to. An option: offer a complimentary service to potential customers to introduce them to your brand. If you provide something of value—and particularly something unique in relation to the pandemic—then you can attract people to your business. For example, many SEO brands offer free audits to help leads learn how they can improve. A realtor might offer a course on first-time home buying to attract couples and young professionals. What can you offer that builds up your community and provides a valuable service while still promoting your brand? Launch Your Own Conference You don’t have to develop the next MozCon or eTail—but with the right creative team and staff, you can put together a miniature virtual conference or networking event that brings people together. For example: \tIdentify a few key trends in your field and bring experts in your industry together to discuss them virtually \tStart a virtual networking event that meets online with lunch-and-learns or small group discussions \tCreate a safe, socially distant networking event to bring people together—ideally outside (like a Picnic and Professionals Group or Outdoor Accountants) \tForm a small group of professionals who work together to bring each other leads and support each other during the year Creating something of your own can give you more flexibility and help you to focus on your key goals with this conference substitute. Plus, you can use it to position yourself as a leader in your field who can give others exposure and opportunities. Start With Your Main Goal and Work Backward If you’re missing out on the conference experience this year, identify what you most need from these events and then find solutions to replace them. If you enjoy attending conferences for learning opportunities, find webinars or online certifications instead. If you use conferences for lead generation, brainstorm unique marketing strategies to promote your brand. When you move forward with a problem-solving mindset, you can overcome whatever pandemic challenges you face.