The power of virtual networks

Networking doesn't have to stop during the coronavirus lockdown
Caroline Parry
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Many people use virtual networks to support networking at physical events such as the Museums Association conference
Many people use virtual networks to support networking at physical events such as the Museums Association conference
Networking is about creating connections through communication. During the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, many of us are tapping into digital and virtual networks to support continuing professional development and mental wellbeing.
Below is some guidance on networking in the age of digital and social media from the Museum Practice archive.
Top tips on virtual networking
Meet ups can happen without groups ever actually meeting; contacts can be made and cultivated on the other side of the world, and support and advice can come through an email group.
“Virtual networks are easier to participate in as they require less time and resources," said Alex Bird, the senior development officer at Museum Development North West. “They are also a great way to share advice, guidance and resources.” From email groups, including the Museum Computer Group for the sector’s tech professionals, and the Group for Education in Museums for those working in museum and heritage learning, to Twitter hang-outs, Zoom meetings and LinkedIn, there is an almost overwhelming array of opportunities. Finding the right ones for you is as simple as asking colleagues and friends in the sector about which ones they use, Bird said. Katy Jackson, the public programmes manager at London’s National Army Museum, said that some networks might even “come and find you”.
It is also useful to follow people you know, admire or would like to meet on social media sites, including Twitter and LinkedIn. Becki Morris, a steering committee member at the Disability Cooperative Network for Museums, also suggested checking out professional hashtags that are similar to your interest.
The Museums Association’s professional development officer Tamsin Russell said that people approach virtual networking just like face-to-face networking. “Identify what purpose your participation in networks aims to achieve,” she added.
“If it is about deeper knowledge in your current discipline see if there are virtual opportunities to engage in Specialist Subject Networks (SSNs) or smaller professional bodies; if it is about developing a different understanding in an aligned field then look to participate there; if it is about becoming well rounded then why not try #MuseumHour on Twitter.” Jackson has been a volunteer with MuseumHour, a weekly discussion on Twitter, for a year. “It’s informal, but it can be both serious and light-hearted,” she explained. “It draws people from across the sector, which is very useful and would be very difficult to facilitate in real life.” The beauty of it, she said, is the ease with which people – even members of the public – can engage. Twitter and museums go together like “cats and the internet”, said Sacha Coward, a founder member of Queering Museums, a LGBTQ+ network. While digital networking can be “an introverts dream”, Coward believes that in order to make the most of the opportunities you have to put in the effort. He advised that preparing what you want to say at “events” such as MuseumHour, as well as sharing interesting images, videos and links. “Sharing some of yourself allows you to feel real while allowing you to highlight different facets of who you are,” he added. “People want authenticity. If that is something you can’t find the fun in then you shouldn’t do it.” It is possible to learn a lot from digital networks even if your own contributions are small. Russell said : “That may be exactly what meets your needs but, in my experience, people are very generous with their time and insights. If you want to ask a question or connect more deeply, then a lack of visibility will not negatively impact the support and guidance offered.” LinkedIn is another useful social network for the sector, said DCN’s Morris. “I find it quite an important tool. It is a good way of finding out who is coming up in the sector, as well as offering a way to find out more about attendees at an event.”
Putting time and effort into maintaining your virtual networks, however, is as essential as it is in physical networking.
“The maintenance is around remaining engaged – liking, re-tweeting, replying, commenting, asking questions etc,” said Russell. “You need to put in what you hope to get out.”
This is an edited article from the Museum Practice archive - which is free for individual and institutional members of the Museums Association

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