Reid Hoffman just posted a fascinating article about networking and business relationships. He wrote that opportunities revolve around individuals, and you have to make real, human connections if you want to create something big. He should know. In the middle of the last decade, he and many former employees from PayPal met frequently in person while they were building some of the biggest social media properties around today.
But it’s interesting that the “PayPal mafia,” as they are known, relied so heavily on face-to-face meetings to build sites like Linkedin, which facilitates virtual ones. Are social networks simply not up to scratch for creating real human relationships?
Let’s not get carried away. First, nothing beats getting together in person. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build similar relationships online. It’s just that many people don’t or don’t even try. Part of the problem is that while social networks make it easy to connect, they also make it easy to be lazy about connecting. Want to stay in touch with someone? Simply click a like button to remind them you’re around. Want to let everyone know what you’re doing? Post a 100 character status update. Because it’s so fast and easy, and so many people are doing the same thing, your communication can easily get lost in the noise.
Social networks also tend to blur the line between shallow acquaintances and real connections. You can easily make 500+ connections on Linkedin, but it’s impossible to remain in close contact with 500+ people. If you send Paris Hilton a connection request, she (or someone who works for her) will almost certainly reply yes. But if you want a job in fashion, she’s probably not going to help you.
So how do you break out and build real relationships online? We’ve started a list of ideas below, but the basic principle is simple: Whether virtual or in person, you get out of networking what you put into it. If all you’re doing is clicking buttons, don’t be surprised that you’re not getting calls.
Anyway, here are some ideas that can help your network work harder—and feel free to add more below:
Make a plan. Figure out what you want out of your network. Then separate your connections into two camps. Those who can help you reach your goals are in your network, the others are simply friends. Don’t neglect the latter, but concentrate on the former.
Communicate one-on-one. Posting in your feed or clicking a like button is fine. But remember, you get out of networking what you put into it. When someone in your network gets a promotion, why not send a thoughtful note that shows you are paying attention to their career?
Make your connections more than professional. Reading what Reid has to say about the PayPal alumni, it becomes clear that getting together helped turn colleagues into friends. If you’re just a connection, people will hire you for your skills. But if you’re a friend, they will find and create opportunities for you if they can.
Don’t just connect with people, connect people. Networking is not a one-way or even two-way street. Actively think about things that can help your connections and reach out to them if you see an opportunity. They’ll do the same for you.
Stay persistent. Even if people don’t respond, don’t get discouraged. Networking is work, after all, and you have to realize that not everyone is going to answer your requests immediately.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, merely a few thoughts on getting started. If you have additional ideas, and especially for ways that brands and companies can “network,” please add them in the comments below. As I said, what you put into sites like Linkedin is what you get out of them. A thoughtful comment can always lead to a useful connection.