Networking in this modern age has been digitised, so it is made easier, but is it more effective?
Probably not, when most of the time the so called Networking’ is little more than an opportunity for a sales pitch.
Over my time, the most value that has evolved has come not from those I know well, but from those I know not so well, or at all, but who are in the networks of those in my networks.
When I first left corporate, one morning after another barney with the MD (never a career enhancing move) 23 years ago, the first thing I did the following morning, after processing the fact that I had a young family, with heavy commitments, and suddenly no income, was to write down the name of everyone I knew with the intention of ringing each of them to let them know I was now looking for a job.
The really surprising fact was that the greatest level of support came from those I did not know well, but with whom I had interacted in some way. They not only offered me the support I had assumed would come from my closest connections, but they were the most valuable source of new connections. With hindsight, it is obvious, those I knew well were less likely to be able to offer valuable new connections, as I already knew them all.
The networks of your networks are of enormous value, if you treat them with respect. The weak ties they deliver are more likely to create the unexpected than those you know well.
Over the years I have discovered a few things about networking, which is the source of 100% of my activity, as it has always been since the first consulting gig came 22 years ago. This came from a vague acquaintance to whom I had offered some insights in the course of a general conversation I did not remember, but he did.
It is not about selling, it is about trust.
When an approach is with the objective of selling, most can smell it a mile way, and run for the hills, we hate to be sold to. Networking is about being valuable to others, which builds trust, which eventually leads to a transaction, in a tiny percentage of cases. You always need to give a bit before you can expect to get anything of value back.
Networking is highly personal.
Human beings are social animals, but having said that, we like to be social with others who are ‘like us’. There has to be some human connection before we will allow somebody new into our personal circles. This is where most of the digital platforms fall down. A ‘Like’ on Facebook is utterly meaningless, except to Facebook as a track along which to send more ads. A generic ‘let’s connect’ message on LinkedIn is much less likely to attract a positive response than one that is personalised, and the more personalised the better. After all you are more likely to trust someone who has taken the trouble to do some basic research and sent a personalised note, than a random generic connection request which you know in most cases will be followed by a sales pitch.
Networker or connector?
Being a networker implies that it is all about you, who you know, and what you can make happen as a result. A better outcome is to be a connector, someone who ‘knows who knows,’ and in this way can add value to two other parties, which will build trust, and the likelihood that both of the connected parties will remember and return the favour, usually in spades.
Networks work as clusters.
Because we are pack animals, who tend to stick together, once we are in a cluster, we can ‘work’ the cluster, but there are always a few who have connections beyond the cluster, the ‘connectors’ referred to above. Being the connector between these tight clusters is a position of great influence. The more diverse the connections you have access to, the greater the potential for that the one piece that completes the puzzle is likely to be in there somewhere.
And, your most valuable asset: your health of course.