How to Network Online with Influential People

by Diana Drake

Devang Singhal, 17, graduated from Amity International School, Noida, a high school in India, in the spring of 2017. Singhal, whose team The Wolves of D-Street placed third in the 2016 KWHS Investment Competition, is passionate about business, especially marketing and finance. He is headed to Singapore Management University in Singapore this month to pursue a business management degree. Singhal (pictured below) wrote this first-person article — part of the KWHS summer essay series — to share his advice for connecting online with people you want to know.

Let’s face it, we’re extremely lucky.

We are part of a generation that has a distinct advantage. I’m literally able to search your name on Google, hit a few links, and invite you to coffee next Saturday. And the best part? The world is still catching up. A huge number of people aren’t spending enough time building relationships with people who matter, people who have the potential to change their lives forever. Online networking is powerful, and it is time for our generation to take the lead and ramp up our networking game.

If I lost you at “online networking,” here’s a chance to catch up. But before I talk about what networking is about, I want to talk about what networking is NOT about.

People often think that networking is a chance to extract value from other people for free – chatting people up via email, social media or in person to get access to jobs, new business opportunities, and even the best place in town to have dinner. Why not flip that on its head? More people need to take this networking approach: “How might I provide something of value to the person I want to connect with? What problem could I solve for them before I even think about my own needs and what I could get in return?”

Successful networks are built on empathy and humility. Networking effectively is your ability to give so much value up front that you inspire people to help you back. This is exactly how I’ve been able to connect with multiple influencers throughout high school.

Now, I know that some of you might question what a high school student could possibly have of value to offer to an established professional. Stop thinking like that! This mindset is preventing you from having the courage and conviction to put yourself out there and start networking.

Connecting with Sir Tata

Right about now you might be thinking, “Is this guy for real?” So, here’s an example of how online networking worked for me. Using a mutual connection, my team of high school students competing in the 2015-2016 KWHS Investment Competition – The Wolves of D-Street — was able to connect with a billionaire Indian investor to learn more about investing and stock trading. I was even able to connect with one of the world’s biggest business tycoons, Sir Ratan Tata, through a series of mutual connections to find out about the availability of a college scholarship. Among other things, he has served as the chairman of Tata Group, a Mumbai, India-based global business conglomerate.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was immensely difficult to contact Sir Tata; I had to get through multiple gatekeepers to even get his email. What worked was my persistence. I got rejected multiple times. Many people did not even answer my emails, and some simply refused. If you’re trying to connect with very hard-to-reach people, persistence and using a chain of mutual connections are critical to your success.

But what if no such contacts exist? Then I urge you to consider other options, such as cold-emailing and social media. The first logistical problem to cold emailing is obviously getting the email of the influencer with whom you hope to connect. Let me introduce you to one secret weapon that I and many other successful networkers use to overcome this hurdle.

Email Hunter (Hunter for Chrome) is a Google Chrome plug-in that basically scouts for email addresses through LinkedIn or the targeted individual’s personal blogs or domains. People need an email address in order to create these types of accounts, which is why this online tool is able to locate genuine email addresses.

So, you found the email! Now what? Chances are this person doesn’t have a lot of time to consider your request. Whenever I email an influencer, I try to keep it as short and clear as possible. I emphasize providing value in the first two-to-three lines and then go on to explain any other relevant details. Avoid long essays, confusing jargon-filled language, or inessential details.

Here is where we all need to realize the power of social media. Twitter and Instagram are especially valuable platforms if you are looking to reach out and network. Research the online platform that the influencer you are targeting uses the most, spend some time there, and then leverage it to connect with that person.

Recently I wanted to connect with Kanika Dewan, a Guinness World Records holder for making the largest marble mosaic in the world. Dewan is also a successful businesswoman and Wharton alumnus, and our KWHS investment team wanted her advice on our strategy. I watched her Twitter feed to get a better sense of her interests. I updated myself on those topics, and then I actively engaged with her. I retweeted a couple of her tweets that I agreed with, shared my opinions on the topic, and tried to add value. This way I was first able to organically build an online relationship with her, and then I later contacted her with my request. The reward was an email address she sent me to continue our conversation in detail.

This also worked well because she did not have a massive following on Twitter. Thus, it was easy for me to grab her attention there. You should connect through a medium that gives you maximum visibility.

Trust, Rapport and Hustle

Entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say, “Jab, jab, jab, right hook” (which also happens to be the name of one of his books), when referring to using social media to your advantage. What he means is that first you give unwarranted value, and then you ask for value back. The cool thing about giving value is that it builds trust and rapport, two essentials of any relationship.

Every person is different and they all have problems that need solving and ideas that need supporting. Start by making a list of the strengths that you could offer up to bring value to a new relationship.

Here are a few ways that I brought value to some people I connected with:

  1. I wanted to work with an educational startup. I spent time on the startup’s website, noting things that could be improved to increase user traction and engagement, like better copywriting, search engine optimization, and new marketing tactics. I compiled and emailed a word document to the CEO with all my suggestions. Impressed with my hustle, he asked me to become the Delhi, India, ambassador for his startup, which served as a valuable internship for me.
  2. I’ve always been intrigued about how people build motivational accounts on Instagram with 1 million-plus followers, so I finally decided to learn this craft. But I didn’t have a lot of money to pay someone to learn this skill. I messaged 50-plus accounts with more than 100,000 followers and told them exactly this: “Hey, love what you do. Would be happy to make a series of posts for you for free and would love to connect with you.” Five out of 50 replied, and one of those five was exactly who I was looking for to teach me more about social-media strategy. I created posts free-of-charge, and he provided me with insight.

If you’re still out of ideas, here are a few other suggestions for reaching out and building value to potential members of your network:

Give the influencer exposure by offering to interview him or her for your school newspaper or YouTube channel.

  • Organize an event for that person in your school/university, and invite him or her to speak. (I actually did this with my team in the KWHS Investment Competition to get a finance expert’s advice.)
  • You know Photoshop and you’re great at shooting and editing videos? Offer to make 15 free videos for the influencer’s social media channels.
  • You make great music? Why not offer that vlogger you’ve been trying to reach new and amazing background music for his videos?
  • Oh, you can write? Why not offer to create great online content for that NGO whose founder can help you land your next summer internship opportunity?

There are so many ways to bring value to the table. And if you’re still thinking, “I do not have any skills like those to offer,” you’re wrong. I recently wanted to learn copywriting from a person who has worked with brands like Nike and Under Armour. As a high school student, I could not afford what he charged, and since many much more skilled people were trying to connect with him, none of my conventional value propositions would have worked.

So, to bring him value (and get access to his stellar copywriting skills), I offered to do busy work that would free his schedule for other projects and spending time with his family. I converted one of his long blog posts into smaller parts that could be shared as different blog posts on his Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts. He was able to recycle old content and generate new leads and customers.

Attention, high school students. You are never too young to begin building your online network! If you aren’t leveraging social media to your advantage, you are missing out on lots of opportunities. If you aren’t using LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter to connect with key people and influencers, you are losing to others who are. If you aren’t deploying a generous and humble spirit to build relationships, you are probably not making strong connections. Take advantage of all these tools to build relationships and your path to success.

Devang Singhal plans to study business at Singapore Management University.
Devang Singhal plans to study business at Singapore Management University.


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Conversation Starters

What is networking? How does it relate to the process of building relationships?

What are some specific examples of how Devang Singhal has connected with influential people? Have you had similar experiences? Share your story in the comment section of this article.

Do you agree with Singhal’s approach to online networking? Why or why not? What suggestions do you have to add practical advice to his strategy? Let Singhal know what you think about his ideas — he may just comment back!

19 comments on “How to Network Online with Influential People

  1. I love everything about this article. It’s so simple, elegant, yet it gets the point across: You need persistence and perseverance. Singhal, you mentioned this, and it’s absolutely true, no matter what you want to do with yourself. And here’s to one of my favorite quotes: “Your network determines your net-worth.”

    One of my favorite parts of this article is how you mentioned bringing value. Unfortunately, most famous and successful people are often too busy to worry about a helpless 16-year old messaging them. If you want to hear back, or learn from those who’ve spent years accomplishing your aspirations and goals, the best thing to do is to provide them value. It’s something I’ve definitely overlooked, but after reading this article, woke me up. Whether that’s offering to take care of someone’s busy work, or helping their social media, or proposing a well-thought-out, free-of-charge solution to their company’s perceived weaknesses, it’s definitely something that stands out away from the excessive bundle of useless emails they get every single day.

    This actually reminds me of something known as the “briefcase technique,” created and taught by entrepreneur Ramit Sethi. It’s used in job interviews, negotiations, and (you guessed it) networking! Basically put, you bring a legitimate briefcase to your interview, and right as you get down to business, you formally pull out a multi-page proposal with your research on a company/product, their flaws, and how you’re going to improve their situation. It’s supposed to be a really flashy, formal and impressive move where, afterwards, people will say “Wow, that guy really knows what he’s talking about, he’s done his homework!” Apparently thousands of people have reported getting the job or getting the connection they’ve always wanted – because, if you think about it – the person you’re trying to network with is only focused on the impressive value you’re about to bring them. To them, you asking for mentorship, advice, or favors down the line shouldn’t be a problem, because you both have something positive to gain.

    Well anyways, thanks Devang! By the way, your school has been fantastic in the KWHS competition – not sure if you were participating this year, but Amity really did a great job presenting in this year’s 2017 Gobal Finale. Also – don’t be surprised if I’m taking Tata’s chairman out to a nice coffee or dinner sometime soon 🙂

    • Aneesh, thank you for taking out the time to write that response. I am so happy that you found it valuable! Yes, I do know and follow Ramit Sethi. And yes the briefcase technique is legendary. It is great that brought it up here. It is taught by many life coaches who teach how to land your dream jobs, or negotiate a higher pay for your work as you mentioned.

      Also, thank you for your appreciation about the KWHS competition. The credit 100% goes to our school and our rockstar teacher-in-charge. He’s the man behind the scenes who made everything possible from start to end. This year, it was my juniors who presented and won! Also, please don’t forget to call me if you do get that dinner with Sir Tata. 🙂

      • Oh, that’s great! Looks like your school and teacher really did a splendid job putting the whole presentation together. I was impressed! You guys are also doing a fantastic job with promoting financial literacy to thousands of kids in India (as your juniors presented so at the Finale). On a side note, I’m planning a potential financial literacy project as well – could we get connected in some way possible? I’d love to hear about how Amity took the initiative to reach out to so many kids back in India on financial literacy and education. My email’s, I’d love to keep in touch!

  2. To answer the question “what is networking”, one must first study the fundamental economic concept; incentive. The world works through a system of incentives, essentially a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” I am not saying there are not people out there who do things just because they want to, expecting nothing in return, but what I am saying is that networking is correlated with incentives and highly influential in the process of building relationships amongst people.

    Networking is the increasing of a person’s circle of people that they know at a personal or professional level. For example, a student reaching out to a business professional or an expert in their respected field seemed like an unimaginable idea and difficult not to long ago and as Singhal mentions, we are very lucky in the sense that we can email and start conversation with people we would not normally have the opportunity to meet. The business professional subconsciously knows that if the student has put in all the effort to meet him/her, they must have something of value to discuss or learn about which the student will then apply the knowledge they gain and give credit to that business professional. In a sense, “networking” relies on the fundamental economic concept of incentives and basic human psychology.

    Networking is important to crafting personal or professional relationships with people that they know. Personal and professional relationships are what stem from the interactions between people and caused by networking.

    As I have explained, networking is the expanding of one’s circle of people they know at a professional or personal level and is crucial to building successful personal and professional relationships.

    • Ayush, I liked how you explained networking. Now here’s the thing, I absolutely agree that every relationship in this world is incentive based. In fact, if it wasn’t for incentives, I wouldn’t have written this article and you wouldn’t have commented on it but unfortunately, some people have taken a very different approach to this. They want other people to incentivize them without providing value or being of value in any way in return. Essentially the best type of relationship is a relationship where the both the participants are mutually dependent and not the opposite. There are many people who “want” things but not enough who are willing to “give” things.

      People who are actually deploying care to help people they want to build relationships with are the ones who are actually winning the networking game.

  3. This article inspires me to start doing research to not only try to find and solve a problem to advance our society for the future, and to also find out what I would like to pursue in the future.

  4. I really liked this article. This article has great structure and the fact that it was so simple it made it even easier and better to read. Singhal’s advice about really starting researching and bringing value to grab attention and build a relationship is very useful and I will really try to use it. I learned that value can really have an impact on what your saying and trying to do. He’s advice will really help me in the future, open more opportunities and has inspired me to figure out what I want to do and how this advice can help me find my way to success.

  5. I really like this article a lot it hits on some key points like you have to be persistence with what you are doing. It is also true that if you keep messaging people to help build your YouTube channel or Instagram page eventually someone will get back to you and help you out and give you some advice I have been their to do it. The best advice I could give anyone is that if you want to get someone keep doing it and do not let anyone tell you can not do it because you can do it. So if you want to have a million YouTube subscribers or a million followers on Instagram just keep working at it . It may take sometime but keep trying and do not give up

    • I agree with what you said. On social media, in order to grow, you must learn to be persistent in order to have success. Dry messaging and emailing bigger social media accounts can one day lead to them responding and it could result in them working with you and helping you grow. And I also agree that if you want something that you need to work for it and can’t expect it to be given to you easily.

    • Sal, I totally agree with you on the YouTube and Instagram thing don’t let anyone tell you you can’t make good videos or you should stop posting videos because everyone has a different personality and other people may think you’re funny and some other may not.You can’t just act like a different person to get people to like you if you’re just yourself there are going to be millions of people who will like you and just for you.

  6. With the generation of social media, and internet, networking has become much easier that anyone can now do it. If you try, and are consistent you can achieve you goals of networking with people who already have a large, established following. It is as easy as contacting someone through social media, receiving their email and actually going and contacting them. This can help yourself blow up really get started with a following. If it doesn’t work the first time, it may take a few tries to grab their attention. As long as you stay on task, doing your thing, and building yourself, you will get the chance to expose yourself to new followers.

    • Hey Connor i agree with you that if you are persistence in what to do something like get a bigger follower base then you will be able to achieve it if you try hard enough and if you keep asking people to help build your fan base eventually you will get people to follow you

  7. This article is very interesting in how the methods of persistence, can lead to a very large reward. Using almost a brute force technique of persisting to ask can get you at the table of even the most influential people. The most important part however, is that you don’t have to be a genius to get information from people or to help influential people. There is an opportunity for anyone to diversify their knowledge, and learn from the world’s leading experts in these fields. It is astounding how even someone very young can build a relationship with the CEO’s of fortune 500 companies.

    • In context to your point Nick, it is very intriguing that people can create relationships with very prestigious people through online networking, which is extraordinary for it would not seem that likely. Additionally, the article’s use of persistence and ways of using talent to help network yourself was also interesting for I never thought of using specific talents to network yourself. Along with this, the article’s suggestion of persistence through helping to contribute to the person you are trying to network too also is a very productive, good way to network, which I thought many people need to do more often if they are trying to succeed. In your point Nick, it is great also to diversify skills through talking to influential people for you can gain well-received experience, which you could probably never have got if you did not network at all. Therefore, I do also say that this article does promote a great idea about networking and doing more for it is something that I would have never thought of doing until now.

  8. This article is emphasizes just how important it is to build connections with people and the benefit it will have on, not only you, but also others. Networking is largely a connection that is most beneficial when both parties provide something of value. There is little reason for someone to give you their time, if you don’t provide anything, especially when there are certain things that are quite easy to do that benefit them. However ,building the original connection, I believe, is generally harder than keeping the connection (unless you have a bad impression or don’t provide anything). I believe that I can apply this to my life to a greater extent than I already have been due to being more aware.

  9. I have networked with different people in the filming industry and have reached out to different people regarding playing on different TV shows or movies and things like that and they have emailed be back saying when and where it was going to be and how it was going to work and what I needed to succeed. So yes I have networked before.

  10. What an insightful article! In today’s fast-paced world, effective networking and communication are absolutely vital, and Singhal’s take on how to network online really resonated with me: “How might I provide something of value to the person I want to connect with? What problem could I solve for them before I even think about my own needs and what I could get in return?” It’s not just about gaining, but fostering mutually beneficial relationships. Singhal’s perspective has influenced how I approach online connections.

    During the pandemic lockdown, I found myself with more time online, and like Singhal, I was intrigued by several motivational Instagram accounts. Feeling inspired, I decided to start a couple Instagram pages to explore my passions: one sharing style inspiration and trendy outfit ideas and one sharing fun lifestyle inspiration pictures, everything from summer bucket-list ideas to diy arts and crafts.

    Learning from trending accounts in my niche, analyzing what they did well, and looking for areas I could potentially stand out, I honed my style and strategy. I also noticed that these pages often shared posts featuring each other so I reached out to several of them. Leveraging these mutual shoutouts was a pivotal moment, not just for helping me reach 1k in a little over a week, but for building lasting relationships that extended beyond the initial dm. Like how Singhal was able to organically build an online relationship with Kanika Dewan, I was able to build online relationships with the accounts in my niche by actively engaging with their posts and supporting their content.

    But what really propelled my growth was learning that the key value lies in understanding and engaging with my audience. It’s about providing content that resonates with them, and not just myself. When Instagram introduced Reels, I spotted a golden opportunity and started sharing short relatable videos, capitalizing on the algorithm’s push for its new feature. I continuously tracked my progress, analyzed my posts’ performances, and interacted with my followers daily, seeking feedback from them through fun polls, story games, and Q&As.

    At the heart of this process was building that trust and rapport, just as Singhal mentioned. By having my audience in mind first and thinking about ways I could share content they liked, I was able to organically grow both my accounts to 50k+ followers. Even as I’ve shifted my focus to new adventures, I’ve carried this mindset with me. Leading with value has become a guiding principle for me in every interaction, from fostering new friendships to helping my customers in my small business.

    Thank you for sharing your insights, Singhal! Your perspective deeply aligns with my belief in the power of authentic and value-driven connections, both online and offline.

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