I’d like you to join my professional network on Linkedin.
How many request do you get when someone just fires through the standard invitation? I get loads. But, rather than ignore them or just accept a request from someone that I don’t know, I send this reply: -
Hi (Enter Name Here),
Thanks for your Linkedin request.
I generally only connect with people I have met in person or have been recommended to by someone I know.
If there is an opportunity you would like to put my way, a mutual benefit to us connecting right now or I’ve simply forgotten we’ve met, please drop me a note and would be happy to consider.
So, what does this do?
It sorts out the collectors (speculators) from the real connectors (trusted contacts). Collectors are people that are just randomly wanting to connect with you, offering no value to the connection. Linkedin is the place where I keep contact of my network, that is, people that I know. It’s mostly people that I have met, but occassionally I do connect with people that know my trusted contacts.
A Quality Invite
When you know someone personally, it’s OK – in my view – to send a standard request. I still choose not to, opting to always add a short note to personalise it.
If you are looking to connect to someone that you want to approach as you have a mutual opportunity/common connection/reason to connect, but you have not met in person, then add some commentary why you are sending the request or you are likely to end up on the reject list. It doesn’t need to be war and peace.
We haven’t met but we share XXX as a mutual connection. I think we share a number of common connections/or an interest in XXXX and think we would benefit from knowing each other.
XXXX always speaks highly of you and noted to me that you are someone that I should connect with.
Do you see what a different impact that might make to a potential connection? It says, “I’ve thought about this, there is some benefit to us knowing each other and this is a personal note.” Do that and you should ensure more connections.
Last year I hosted an event where one of the speakers – Adrian Webster – talked about TNT’s (tiny noticeable things). TNT’s are the small things that can be like dynamite in human relationships of any kind. I interpreted it as those little moments when you go the extra mile for someone for no particular reason other than you felt compelled to do so.
Last week, when news of my impending promotion broke in the press, I received well over a hundred messages from people that I know, which was lovely. It’s an important lesson in business, to keep an eye on your closest contacts and make sure you take the opportunity for a TNT. People will remember those gestures for a long time.
Ways you can do this include: -
- Keeping an eye on Linkedin to see if someone has changed their job title
- Scanning the business press to see if any of your key customers have made any positive announcements.
- Allocating filtered colums in Tweetdeck to ensure that you keep full track of your top network members.
- Regularly reading blogs of people that are in your network to keep updated with their activity.
- Committing to sending at least one e-mail a day to someone you’ve not been in contact with a while asking for their news.
In our world of electronic communication, a hand-written card has cut through, every time. I keep a stack of them in my drawer and my wallet topped up with stamps in readiness for a TNT. Don’t over use them, but look for the genuine moments when something has happened worthy of comment or celebration. I regularly mention this when I speak and people that I have seen since tell me stories of how this has helped to cement or renew a business relationship, basically it works.
Even though e-mail and Tweets are convenient and hugely welcome, going the extra mile and dropping something in the post, creates a nice surprise and a keepsake which doesn’t make it’s way to an e-mail file folder. Have a go next week and send something to someone, see what happens.
Ask a room full of people whether they have more free time now then they did five years ago and rarely do you see a hand go up.
Time, Attention and Trust are all in short supply, we’re optimising every moment, catching up, organising, on top of our other competing demands.
So, if this is now the convention of life – work/life blend, rather than balance, how should you change your business development approach to your customers?
Life seems to have gone full circle. Being a proud Generation X, I’ve been schooled in the the importance of personal relationships. During the late nineties and into the new millenium, businesses went a little CRM crazy, defining relationships by database fields. It was all about your system.
Compare that to now. Ten years on, we’re now talking about the importance of one to one, not one to many. Traditional media continues to find ways to justify itself and social media has created hundreds of millions of individual voices.
Relationship building is becoming about the balance of how frequently you listen combined with how frequently you communicate (reception+transmission) at a one to one level.
Where are you FRoM?
If people are time starved, then traditional methods of reaching out to them may be less effective. You’re networking events may not be so well attended, your e-shot open rate may be a fraction of a percentage, your direct mail may be directed to the re-cycle bin.
Using applications to stay front of mind (FRoM) with your customers and network are key. Blanket bombing them with mailshots is a guaranteed way to put yourself in the “less relevant” box of their thinking.
Working smarter with tools like Linkedin and Twitter to create a simmer effect in your relationship isn’t hard. Primarily it means that when they have a problem, you’re aware and – more importantly – you’re in their field of view as a potential problem fixer or trusted advisor.
Completing some training with a professional services company on Friday, I hit this point home. Quite often, interventions by the professional services sector are event driven. If you don’t have proximity to your clients (in range to listen) at their point of need, then you may well find a competitor through the door. Use the technology that exists today, to make that job easier.
I’ve had personal experience of this over the years and it’s a timely reminder that you have to stay in regular, relevant, contact with the people that are important to you, if you wish to be the person they talk to in their moment of need.
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: -
- 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
- 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.
- Give, give, give. Ask what value you are delivering into the network. Give generously.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
Linkedin have just launched a new tool called visualiser. It takes your network connections then cleverly groups your connections visually, based upon connections that you have in common.
From the clusters that get generated, you can quickly understand the myriad of connections that exist between your contacts, whilst also getting a graphic visualisation of the types of people you are connecting with.
For example, this is my map. In the blue area, I can identify these relationships as being people I know in the Manchester/NW area. Orange is connections from the office equipment industry, green is industry connections in the I.T. space and pink staff or colleagues. The larger the node, the more contacts that individual has.
By clicking on any one of the nodes, you get a quick profile of the individual aswell as a quick visualisation of all the people that you are both connected to. It’s a great way of quickly establishing who you have in common, across industries or regions.
Infographics are becoming de rigeur in helping us process information in today’s time strapped, data driven world. I think this is a pretty cool new tool that will help you take stock of your network at a macro level. The more you play with it, the more it makes sense.
Personally, I limit my Linkedin connections to people that I have met or know in person, otherwise it becomes a bit of a zero sum game, thousands of people you don’t know. Quality over quantity any day for me.
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.
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?
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.
Will you be my facebook friend, Facebook friend, Facebook friend? You know the type, the digital equivalent of someone that whistles around networking events collecting cards with a ruthless intensity, discarding people like sweet wrappers as they surge towards their KPI of how many they can collect in an evening. I know they exist, I’ve met enough of them. That’s why I don’t connect with everyone on Linkedin, I prefer to connect with people that I’ve met in person to keep touch of someone where I have a common interest or business opportunity.
What is nice however is when you do get to meet people as a result of social media. When something comes off. When an on-line interaction goes off-line, then gains further traction. Social media then turbo boosts that relationship, making it more relevant and allowing you to develop your relationship further. It isn’t the silver bullet as everyone would have you believe, it’s just another tool in the box, albeit a bit like a Swiss Army knife, multi-purpose in its action.
I’ve lost count of the people that I’ve now met on social media that have turned into really solid contacts and friendships. Without social media we would have never met. It brings together communities and common interests, like a laser beam on the world, picking people out that might have a propensity to collaborate with you, help you or do business with you. This is the bit that many businesses still don’t get. They still think it’s about Facebook friends, endless hours of wasted time posting irrelevant status updates and non-profit generating activity. Deployed badly, it can be. Deployed correctly, it’s quite the opposite. If your business thinks that a physical networking event is a good idea, then you need to also look on-line too. Networking events can be hard work sometimes, you don’t always get quality, you might get quantity. Take it online and you might increase your propensity to speak to your target audience.