A lot of people ask me how to go about establishing an online network. Whether they need it for a new job or to help establish business prospects, realizing the value of your social interactions is essential. Through networking, you can discover that brief contact with an informative and friendly approach can come back years later.
Example One- Job searching two years in advance.
My current position at Blogging Systems Group is a key example of how networking works. I saw an interesting press release for Blogging Systems that included my passion for blogging and sent off a friendly e-mail. I wasn’t looking for a job at the time, just thinking about how interesting the article was. Two months later my CEO (Richard Nacht) struck up a conversation via e-mail when he remembered some comments we had shared.
While I was thinking about the opportunity, I asked him about some other people working with him as references (yes, I’m a job seeker that asks for references) – he gave me Paul Chaney’s name (BSG’s VP of Marketing.)
I laughed and thought “Sign me up!” He asked if I was going to call Paul, and I didn’t need to. Two years earlier I had exchanged a round of conversation with Paul when he was running a blog marketing firm- Radiant Marketing Group (now defunct.) I knew Paul was a good guy then, he had made some memorable impressions on me, and I was good to go.
The point here is simple- I wasn’t looking for a job. A job found me. Because I had networked properly for years, Paul’s name was all I needed to know what I was in for.
So avid learners, here are some basic lessons to growing your own online network-
When you were standing in line ordering a cup of coffee today, did you waste three minutes of your morning watching the barista stand behind the counter? Did you spend fifteen minutes watching a co-worker sip a soda in the corner of the break room?
That is what I refer to as wasted networking time. While standing in line at the café, or waiting for the check-out at the grocery store- turn around and strike up a conversation. I promise, it won’t kill you.
I know the title of this article says “online network” so I’ll draw the comparison for you. If you are reading this and haven’t done so already, add a comment. Ask a question. Open a dialogue. Talk to me. I promise, I won’t kill you.
Wait for a second though. Ask yourself, why do I need to grow my network today?
I know everyone likes me just for who I am, but I also accept the fact that we all have different needs. Don’t be afraid to share some of those needs. If you want to ask how you can network, great. If you love coffee and want to chat about the best café in town, I’m your man.
The real emphasis is that until you communicate with someone, you don’t know how they can help you. With communication comes knowledge. Blogging allows us to express that knowledge in articles like this one, but only through commentary and inquiry does a dialogue open. That conversation creates a community, and that community overcomes obstacles by leveraging the strength of your network.
I already have a network! (?)
Really? Have you ever taken the time to sit down and map out how your network functions? Do you know the fundamentals for your professional network?
Before you say “I already have a network”, take five minutes and detail it out. Most people find they have three distinct layers in a network (often referred to as the 3 degrees of separation)
Your “inner circle” - This is usually the five to twenty people who blur the line between professional network and personal friend. They are willing to do things with little or little detail based upon your opinion of the matter.
Your “circle of influence” – This is usually the 100 or so people who you directly interact with on a monthly basis. It includes the “inner circle” of your own inner circle of friends, as well as those people who generally have a good opinion of your professional style.
Your “introduction bubble” – This may be 5,000+ strong. These are typically individuals you have only been introduced to. You may have only spent five minutes with them, and it often defines people you meet in networking events or through your own circle of influence.
Most individuals have immense “introduction bubbles” garnished over years of being in a profession. The key focus with a professional network is two-fold: you must grow new associations and nurture the ones you have. Services like linkedin, ryze, and plaxo are great ways to grow your introduction bubble (I even went and created entirely new accounts on those services to show people how this process works.)
The exact nature of this “introduction bubble” is to introduce you. By detailing where individuals fall within the three layers of your professional network, you have the ability to create a game plan to nurture your introductions into your circle of influence, and your circle of influence into your inner circle. The key is to always have a handful of individuals that you are exerting effort on at all three levels. If you compare your professional network to a garden, you will realize the necessity of constant attention and love will pay-off in the long run.
In my next piece, I’ll detail some of the exact steps for becoming a more proficient gardener.
For more of my like-minded articles on social networking, take a look at some of these-
Community Etiquette – From Good to Bad : Some basic points on maintaining good etiquette in an online environment.
Building Your Brand : Establishing yourself so that you stand out from social type-casting.