Social networks are proving great tools for sharing content, connecting with colleagues and friends, and keeping hard-to-maintain relationships dynamic.
There is also a world of opportunities, personal and financial reward, camaraderie, friendship and learning experiences that can come from building and nurturing a fantastic network in a more personal way.
Everyone needs a network—whether for business development, career development or personal reasons. In fact, everyone has a network, whether they know it or not. But not everyone knows how to build or use one.
To create a usable, expandable and vibrant network, you must nurture it. Some of that can be done via technology, but much of network building and maintenance comes from getting out, getting together and getting on the phone.
Just as our PR team builds its media contacts by getting to know reporters individually, taking the time to contact people on their terms, supplying relevant information and seeing our targets as people, so must a personal network-builder take the time to correctly develop a network.
Here are a couple of lessons learned:
- Networking happens everywhere: Anywhere people congregate and share interests can be fertile networking ground. A neighborhood cookout, school committee meeting, black-tie gala or walkathon can be just as appropriate as a planned “Networking Luncheon.”Here at Castle, the events we managed and those we attended, even cab-sharing, became networking opportunities for our clients and ourselves.
- This brings up an important point: The best networkers help others build their networks as well. The smoothest networkers are also the most sincere—they look for opportunities for other people that make sense. Just as media relationship-building means occasionally giving non-client-related story ideas or sources, so does personal and professional networking mean helping others that may not directly pay off for you.
- Which leads to point three: What goes around, comes around. Networking is often little more than doing the right favor, making the right recommendation or offering the right connection for the right person. Remembering someone’s need, and helping him or her to fill it, will position you as a problem-solver as opposed to an opportunist. And people do remember—and repay—favors.
- Have your elevator pitch down cold: If you can’t verbalize what you do, you can’t expect potential members of your network to accurately share that information with their contacts. So be able to succinctly describe your company, its products and services, and your role. And listen carefully to your counterpart’s pitch—otherwise you might miss a chance to make an important connection.
- Be yourself: We can all smell phoniness, opportunism and disinterest a mile away. The people that we network best with—invite to events, pass contacts along to, do favors for, are, not surprisingly, the people we typically enjoy being with.
Networking is an art, and must be developed like any other business skill. The first step is being aware that you’re building something fluid, lasting and vital. And you’ll be amazed at how it can grow with a basic level of nurturing and support.
Here’s a way to test your network-building success. Attend a large annual corporate event (for example, here in Boston, The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting or the Boston Business Journal Book of Lists party). Take a look around and consciously note how many people you know—either well, slightly or peripherally. Then, after setting networking goals and working on your network, attend the same event. You will experience a noticeable expansion of your network.
Only you can make the difference between meeting them and knowing them.