Not Working at Networking

I recently wrote a guest blog about networking.  It’s a lot longer piece that I normally publish, however if you do have five minutes with a cup of coffee and want to know how to enhance/build/develop your network, I’d recommend you to have a read.

Not Working at Networking

Opportunity is knocking at your door.  Can you hear it?  The knock is certainly loud enough.  If you have the mindset of an opportunity engineer, not only will you hear the knock but you’ll be really pleased to see who’s at the door and how you can collaborate together.  Not working at networking is guaranteed to decelerate your business success and opportunity creation.

If you look carefully, nearly all successful entrepreneurs have a great network of people around them.  Advisors, mentors, friends, associates.  In fact, look beyond entrepreneurs into large businesses and you’ll see the same thing replicated.  There’s a reason – having a strong network leads to business, personal growth and enhanced reputation. 

The New CEO?

My philosophy is that the CEO no longer exists in its traditional format.  They are in the shadow of the COE (Chief Opportunity Engineer), the new breed of front man who exudes the value of the organisation.  Steve Jobs of Apple falls to mind or Richard Branson of Virgin – see what I mean?

Business – at all levels – need to be generating opportunities through their network.  At a basic level, recommend friends.  At a senior level, can your organisation and my organisation work together? 

Can peer to peer networking introduce a learning opportunity or new friendship?  Time, Attention and Trust are the new scarce commodities in our busy world – breaking into the hearts and minds of senior executives won’t come via an e-shot.  You need to be referred, introduced or have a relationship.

Give me Five

If you’ve new to networking, here are five quick facts for you: -

  1. Networking isn’t about the right here, right now.  Most networks take time to develop, like a finely spun spider’s web.  Don’t push too hard or expect too much too soon.  It’s why more senior execs avoid billed networking events and prefer to
  2. Quality and quantity.  Networking isn’t about having a thousand anonymous contacts.  It’s about building a serious group of like minded solid contacts.  People that will take your call.
  3. Give, give, give.  Ask what value you are delivering into the network.  Give generously.
  4. Use on-line to keep track of your network.  No more million cards in boxes.  Use technology to help keep your network organised.  Linkedin is a great place to start.
  5. Be genuine.  Authenticity, reliability and transparency matter.  Understand why you’re embarking on the journey of building your network.  Personal learning, new prospects, new job or new friends.  Whatever your reason, be yourself.

Put your head in the Cloud

The modern day Rolodex/card box all exists in the cloud with one major difference – establishing the inter-relationships exist between the people you know.   

On-line tools allow you to understand the relationships between people.  The six degrees of separation between you and anyone else in the world.  Trying to get to a new prospect, then this is the way you may find a route through to them.

The world seems to have gone full circle.  Web 2.0 has breathed new life into the idea of networking, without the time investment of turning up at venues and getting home late. 

 A plethora of transient technologies for developers to create new social media platforms has cropped up, status updates, geo-location and aggregation to name but a few – these new platforms will continue to allow us to evaluate who we want to know and what’s going on with them.  Take a look at Gist for example, or Xobni – an application that sits within your Microsoft Outlook client.

However small your business or big your job title, having a strong network around you is a pre-requisite of business success.  I didn’t really figure this out properly until social media networks turned up, but in a turbo-charged world, I’ve quickly figured out that staying front of mind is everything.  Technology has been one of my key facilitators (aswell as getting out there).

The Age of Distraction

We’re in the age of distraction.  The short attention span.  We’re now consuming nine hours of content a day, compressed into a five hour window.  We’re juggling devices, consuming one thing, fiddling with another it seems.  Meeting people is becoming more difficult; they just don’t have the time or have a pre-formed selection criteria, particularly senior executives.

Staying “front of mind” of your network is imperative.   I use Twitter and Linkedin status updates to exchange interesting information.  Links.  Blogposts.  Business news.  Mixed in with some of my movements.  It’s amazing that when I see people, how up to date they are with what’s going on in my world.  I enjoy sharing it and it’s led to some great spontaneous meet ups, fantastic content distribution and enjoyment, through meeting new people.

The CIA in Social Media

There’s never been a better time to investigate who and what you know.  What I mean is using social media networks to investigate your networks and really get under their skin by knowing more about them – like the CIA would.  Most people for example use Linkedin to make a single connection with an individual they may (or may not) know and leave it at that – questionable whether it’s worth doing.

Linkedin is more powerful than that.  Tools I use are things like Linkedin company search.  This allows you to follow a company and see who’s arriving, who’s leaving, who’s been promoted and the members of the business that are on Linkedin.  It’s like a living breathing company CV.  Perfect for dropping a personalised note to a network contact if they’ve been promoted or following a key contact if they’re moving on to a new opportunity.

Is Dunbar right?

Ever heard of Dunbars number?  Wikipedia it.  In short, British anthropologist – Robin Dunbar – established that the number of contacts that you can maintain is finite dependent on brain size.  As the average, the number was around 150 people.  Now, I guess this was before social media came along and changed the rules.  Thousands of Twitter followers, Linkedin contacts and Facebook friends.

However the underlying principle has always been for me about what your network is there for?  What role does quantity have over quality?  Different people run their networks in different ways.  Quality matters.

For example, I rarely connect on Linkedin with someone that I haven’t met in person unless there is a compelling reason for a connection.  If you connect with anyone that asks, they are associations, not a network.  A network is people you can call on, trusted advisors, people who will take your call.  I use layers for my networks, maintaining a large number of loose contacts but focusing my time on energy on the people that matter (top 3%), that way you keep the quality and proximity.

Social2facial

Let’s face it.  A contact only starts to become really meaningful when it goes off-line, that is, you end up meeting someone in person.  I’m a great believer in this and it is the route to growing the number of people you know.  Connect on social media first, take a look and see if there’s a crossover, establish it, start conversing, build credibility then at some point – meet.

I maintain a wide network of contacts at a secondary and tertiary level to increase the number of primary contacts I have.  To increase your exposure to opportunity, you need to be visible, connected to a wide range of people and be alert.  I use social media networks primarily as follows: -

Twitter – The wide pool of people that I have loose connections with.  Consider this the ocean of prosperity through which you might trawl your nets.  I promote my blogposts via Twitter to increase readership and ultimately reputation.  By virtue of that readership, people become more interested in your wider thoughts and interact with you.

Linkedin – A very powerful tool.  Much more than I connect with you, you connect with me.  I use it to follow competitors, potential employees, customers; engage with groups and keep front of mind with the people that matter.

Blog – Great for Reputation Management.  I write a blog at www.philjones.biz giving commentary on business, leadership, social media and innovation amongst other things.  This creates credibility, puts your thoughts out there for people to discuss/debate and gives you an opportunity to put some thought leadership out there.  Blogging is hard to start and maintain, but if you keep at it, it will bring you significant rewards by increasing your reputation amongst your network.

Work It

Networking is basically about building solid human relationships.  Whites of their eyes relationships with people that may assist you with opportunity – whatever that looks like for you.  Human to Human (H2H) relationships still sit at the core of our world – so you also need to be out there, not just sat at a screen.  Choose your events wisely though.  Put as much thought into where you want to go as why.

Maintaining your network is as important as building it.  Staying relevant, remembering small details, adding value and devoting time to stay in touch with people will pay dividends in the long term.  

Not working at networking just isn’t an option for anyone serious about building their reputation, increasing opportunities for sales or meeting interesting people for learning experiences.  If you get a knock at your metaphorical door, open the door and look for the win/win.  Knock knock –who’s there? 

Network Transparency

If you work in a large business, the e-mail daddy is still outlook.  Now it has been said that Microsoft arrived very late to the party when it comes to all things social media and I think that’s borne out by the number of developers now working on plug-ins.

Two that I’ve recently been evaluating for Outlook are Twinbox and Xobni.  Twinbox is a plugin which forwards Twitter messages into your Outlook client.  It’s pretty handy as you can set it up to forward your replies and direct messages straight into an Outlook folder, with an appropriate alarm to let you know they’re there.  I’ve found this to be worthwhile as you are pro-actively alerted to messages which are specifically for you, rather than have to check into another Twitter client. 

Xobni (who I was recommended to by the uber digital brain David Edmunson-Bird at MMU who you can follow on Twitter here)  is a great plug-in.   It indexes your contacts and then sucks in their latest status updates from Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook into a small frame which sits in your Outlook desktop.  It’s pretty handy, as you can quickly see what’s going on with someone, without having to jump in and out of multiple cloud platforms.  It also drags together all of your recent activity, e-mails, attachments and common contacts.  Everything is a click away.

The view of your network is becoming 360 degree.  Small plug-ins like this continue to allow you to be front of mind, to be more efficient, to respond quickly and be relevant.  I’m sure they’ll be the first of many and I’m also sure Microsoft will be pretty happy that someone has got their back.

“Real-actionships”

Personal relationships matter in businesses.  I was reminded of this earlier this week whilst attending a meeting with European colleagues this week.  Yes, we can communicate by e-mail, call each other in business hours, have video-conferences or webex conferences.  However, that doesn’t replace relationships which have the opportunity to develop in social downtime such as speaking over dinner, over a beer in a bar or on a coach on the way to a restaurant.

I’m fortunate to work for an organisation whose global top management still see value in this.  The cost of getting people somewhere is outweighed by the value this proximity brings in pulling us all together more strongly as people.  This investment means that discussion/accomodation and understanding is given a real opportunity.  Clearly there are known known’s taken into account such as  travel and hotel costs, carbon footprint, opportunity cost, however the value transcends this as we work together more strongly as a team.

I call this “real-actionships”.    That is; you can get far more done to resolve a problem or query with someone when you know them as a person.  Finding common ground, common interests and common understanding isn’t always possible when you are in meeting room, the business of business takes over, the agenda rules and outcomes count.  If there’s one thing Generation Y need to learn from about social media, is it’s not just about being an on-line practitioner, but an off-line expert in people relationships too.  Generation X have a lot to pass on here, consider it our legacy.  The art of verbal communication and relationship development with real human beings – “innit.”   LOL.

Are your contacts a network?

Obsession with the number of followers that you have on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin seems to be where a lot of people are at right now. As if, there is some sort of hard measurement technique as to how good you are at that particular activity or how popular you are as an individual.  It’s completely understandable, as normally, that’s how things are measured.  The more people you reach, the higher the chance of influence or response of say a mailshot or e-shot.

However, any marketeer will tell you that a mailshot mailed to a million homes with poor content or bad design, will have a low response rate.  A personalised mailshot sent to 1,000 homes will have far greater impact.  This is quite a good metaphor for the way social media works.   Car brands  do it all the time.  Low end brands put brochures in Sunday newspapers, Premium brands send personalised letters to target postcodes.

If you are obsessed with followers, hanging on to every new one and de-railing everytime someone unfollows you, you might be taking it all a bit too seriously.  I’ve learned over the last couple of years, that followers on Twitter come and go.  If you follow back everyone that follows you, you begin to manufacture your own junk news channel, it all becomes noise again.  So, choose who you follow carefully to ensure your content is of a high quality.

Additionally, having all these contacts can be a diminishing return. A network, is not a collection of thousands of contacts if you don’t actually know anyone (that’s a thousand contacts).  For me, my business network is people that I know and have met, I call this social2facial.   When you have met someone, you get to know them and build up trust (a key driver in today’s expectation economy).  You understand their objectives and goals better and you can work to assist them in achieving them by making introductions or recommendations to others. Interactions become personalised and more relevant.

Of all the people I know on Twitter, around 15% make it to my Linkedin network (where I store contacts that I have met).  They are the people whom I’m most likely to turn to for opportunities.  Conceptually then, I am using Twitter to identify people I’d like to meet after a period of engagement, then to take that relationship off-line to see where business might go.

Finally, I have limited time to be able to spend on social networks.  I run a big business and have lots of interests away from the office, so it’s all about a balance of how many quality relationships you can actually maintain on and off-line relative to the time you can invest.  If you have a huge pool, you might not be able to engage with them and end up being an information broadcaster, rather than a conversationalist.  Twitter expert Mark Shaw writes lots of great blogs around this topic, check him out.

What do you think?

The New Black(berry) Book

What is the modern day equivalent of The Little Black Book? Which is the one place, which – aside from all others – all your key contacts are kept?  Is it the address book in Microsoft Outlook (e-mail addresses)?  Your phone address book (text numbers)?  Twitter?  Linkedin? Facebook?

Most people no longer have one single place, probably multiple places.  Varying degrees of social media platforms with differing types of contacts on.  Thinking of my own situation, I use a combination of Outlook, Linkedin, Twitter and Gist.  Outlook primarily as there are a lot of people I know who are not into social media, I still need to keep a kind of e-mail directory of those.  I recently discovered Gist to suck together Twitter and Linkedin contacts so that activity can be tied together, it’s quite a clever little app, albeit a bit slow to respond sometimes (my woeful 0.5mb home broadband doesn’t help).

Even so, you should always keep a closer eye on your top contacts.  Gist allows you to prioritise your contacts, which is a decent feature.  That way, you get to see what’s really going on with your Top 10% of contacts and ensuring you stay relevant in their world. What is evident is that there is a large amount of online intelligence about your key contacts nowadays, digital breadcrumbs are scattered everywhere and applications which draw information together, filter and prioritise, will really help you to understand the challenges, movements and new connections that people you know are making.

By keeping tabs on who is doing what, you can add value to your network, help solve problems, make new connections and grow the number of people you know.  The more people you do know, the more opportunities seem to come and – ultimately – the more business you’ll win.

Staying Front of Mind

We all know lots of people. Your extended network can run to hundreds of people.  However, with a world on turbo-charge, it’s easy to forget the people you’ve met, that’s why it’s important to keep track of who you know.  Social media is one of the simplest ways to do this, particularly Linkedin.

If you do meet someone interesting, follow them up the next day on Linkedin.  If they accept your request to link up, then a number of things happen.  Firstly, you see who they know.  Secondly, you get an automatic update of their status updates and new connections.  It also means that if you keep your Linkedin up to date and also your status updates, you also get to keep front of mind with them.  Linkedin, unlike Twitter, pushes status updates out via e-mail and a summary of their activity, so it adds another layer to the platforms you may already use.  I blogged about this previously about how I use a Linkedin column in Tweetdeck (post here).

I’ev lost count of the number of people I know in the industry who I catch up with at indsutry dinners who always make a note to come and say hello.  Why?  Because, although we haven’t seen each other in person or even spoken on a phone, however, they do keep up to date with whats going on with me, and vice-versa via Linkedin updates.  If you’re new to Linkedin, I’ve put my Ten top hints and tips up here.

So, who else is coming?

Here’s an idea for you, I used it the other week.  When you are hosting a neworking event, say a dinner, collate a short biog of all the people that are attending.  Their name, their company, their Twitter ID, their company website, their Linkedin address.  Stick it all in one document and let people investigate each other before they come.  It gives everyone coming an opportunity to do their desk research, see who interests them, prepare some interesting questions, build a picture of the table.  It takes a little bit longer to prepare of course, however, the people that are coming really appreciate it.  Your guests may also (pre-event)  link up on Linkedin or follow each other on Twitter.  You, by design, will come across more as a connector of people, someone that “adds value”, (aswell as being a terrific host of course).

I’m still surprised at the number of events that I either speak at or go to, where a speaker profile does not include a Twitter ID for example.  I’ve provided mine, asked for it to be published, yet still it doesn’t appear as the conference organisers “don’t normally do that”.  For me, this is just doing the obvious nowadays, saving people time, making it easy for them to connect and becoming the first step in them joining your wider network of contacts.

Networking

Passing on some advice to an industry contact the other day, made me stop and think for a minute. How have I built my network? Most people that know me consider me reasonably well connected, which is a lovely compliment. I’ll write further blogs about it in the future, for now though I have one golden rule to pass on . Don’t spread yourself too thin.

Whether on-line or off-line, be selective with the channels you use, decide what you want to achieve – in advance – then go to work on building your network. By being selective, you can add more value, give more, see people more regularly (building a stronger relationship in time) and get more benefit. Building solid contacts is not about the first meeting, getting a business card and hounding people. It’s about meeting people, listening, asking questions, contributing, learning and being interested in others, frequency helps this (hence being selective).

Social media networks are no different. People run off setting up profiles everywhere, trying to update too many things and not really moving further forward to their end game, it’s a common mistake and don’t fall into the trap. A favourite one liner sums it up, “If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”, couldn’t agree more.