It’s a huge corporate buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in sales and marketing meetings in corporations across the country and on campuses of business schools everywhere.
But what exactly does it mean to network? How does one build an effective social network? Most importantly, when do you know if you’ve mastered the art of networking?
For me, this whole idea of being really, really good with the art of knowing people is relatively new. I’ve always been obsessed with getting to know as many people as I can in as many different social circles as possible. This obsession includes, but is not limited to, coaching high school baseball, sitting on the boards, leadership seminars, getting nonprofit certified, attending countless business luncheon’s, charity golf outings, and a willingness to meet with anyone and everyone that will listen to me breathe during my undergrad at GVSU. None of this to sound egotistical, but I’m merely trying to paint a picture – I’ve met some people.
But it wasn’t until recently, however, I was able to recognize what it takes to make those connections count. What’s more, I was able to realize how to make those connections work for me and others.
For as long as I can remember people have joked with me – in a serious, not joking kind of way – that it was impossible for me to go anywhere or do anything without knowing somebody else in the general vicinity. I never thought much of it, I certainly didn’t think it was a good thing, and I typically tried to dismiss it and move on with the situation at hand.
I was out to drink with some friends (2 friends and a new acquaintance to be specific) when we began talking about potential job opportunities for this new acquaintance. She was a recent college grad looking to relocate to the Grand Rapids area to be closer to a significant other who she was rather serious with. Having been exposed to a number of different people in the nonprofit sector (the area with which she was interested in) via my experiences with the Grand Rapids Chamber and at work with Blue Cross Blue Shield, I offered to connect her with some people that may be able to help her situation. Almost immediately, the other two who were sitting at the table ceased their existing conversation and proceeded to give me the “you’re doing it again” look.
This struck me differently than every other “you know everybody” situation I’ve ever been in. I don’t know why, but this time it forced me to take a step back and actually analyze my interactions with people and my outlook on meeting new ones. So, from someone who apparently knows what’s going on, here is my ten-cents.
What does it mean to network?
When I think of network the one thing that sticks out in my mind is a spider web. A spider web is big, broad, interconnected, and sticky – but that’s a side note. The most important thing to note about a spider web though is that it keeps growing! If you were to put a spider in, for the sake of this discussion, a big, freaky attic somewhere and never interrupt its business, then over time you could probably guess the size of the spider web would continue to grow. So, when you think network think spider web. Here is how I grow my spider web:
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
How many of us find something we like/feel comfortable with and stick to it? *Raises hand* Exactly! Comfort is great. To be fair, having a place of comfort is a great thing to have. I have a group of 10-12 people who I see and interact with on the regular, but when it comes to growing my network constantly putting myself in situations that I do not often venture into has helped me develop and fine tune my ability to interact with strangers.
Get involved with young professional organizations such as the Grand Rapids Young Professional (GRYP) or volunteer with an organization you feel passionate about but may not be entirely familiar with. These types of volunteer opportunities can lead to a more significant role down the road, and more importantly provide an opportunity to meet people outside of your immediate social circle.
Again, how many of us find something we like/feel comfortable with and stick to it? *Raises hand* Exactly! I feel very passionate about all things healthcare- the administration of healthcare, quality, awareness of different health issues etc. However, if I fail to take time and familiarize myself with what is going on outside of the healthcare realm then I miss out on the critical element of perspective.
For me, coaching, nonprofit boards, faith-based organizations, and healthcare improvement teams make up a pretty diverse community of people.
What are some different areas you can learn more about in hopes of growing your personal network?
Remember what the characteristics of a spider web are? One of them is interconnectedness.
What does it mean to be interconnected?
Well, if you live in West Michigan, you know exactly what it means. I once described Grand Rapids to someone who recently moved to the city as a “sick and twisted mess of interconnected lies”. Now that was a bit drastic but it paints a nice picture. To further illustrate, I met a friend named Kyle four separate times through four separate people on four separate occasions. How is that for twisted?
The point being, don’t be afraid to play social traffic director! I love meeting new people and my friends love meeting new people. You never know where one missing connection could lead to bigger and better things.
Never Burn Bridges
To play off of my previous argument, you never know who you will meet. What’s more, you will never know who other people know.
I like to think that I get along with everybody, but no matter how sociable I think I am there will always be someone I don’t see eye-to-eye with. In the event that something does go sour with someone I once was close with, I do my best to always see that things between us ended on a positive note.
I cannot think of many things worse than not getting that job because of a friendship that went rogue.
How about that social network?
We’re all familiar with the movie starring Jessie Eisenberg that tells the tale about the creation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg and his cast of Harvard roommates – essentially changing the course of social interaction forever.
Although this movie points out only one particular avenue for connecting with people online, it sets the stage for the countless social media platforms that would soon to follow in the footsteps of the mobile/online networking giant. Since Facebook was launched in 2006, hundreds of other social networking platforms have successfully connected people across racial, ethnic, age, and geographic boundaries.
But what does that mean for me? How does this benefit me?
Well besides making it more and more difficult to hide from your parents, it actually creates a very unique opportunity to meet and get to know people you may have otherwise passed over. Take Twitter for example. In my opinion, Twitter is the most underrated and underutilized of all the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now Pinterest). Twitter has the ability to open doors for interaction with people, organizations, potential donors for nonprofits, business opportunities, etc. that no other social network can provide.
For example, I work for a very large company. My office is located nearly two-hours away from our corporate headquarters on the other side of the state. As a way to stay connected, I follow a group of our senior executives, and have had interaction with them, on Twitter. One day while walking through our corporate headquarters for a training session, I was stopped in the hallway by the VP of Corporate Communications for my company. When he got my attention he said to me, “You’re Brandon aren’t you? We’ve met on Twitter.” From there we were able to establish that personal connection from an initially non-personal connection online. But had we never connected on Twitter he would have never known my face or anything about me, thus passing me by in the hallway like everyone else.
It’s important to be able to draw connections when on social networks as well. Think back to the spider web – interconnectedness.
How you approach social media is dependent on what you’re trying to accomplish and is specific to each and every user. I encourage people to participate in Twitter chats as a way to grow in their understanding of various topics, and as a way to meet with people across the globe who are experts in their field.
But most importantly always remember that in everything you do in an online environment is branding. You either build up or tear down your personal brand.
I want to bring to light the fact that for as many people who desire to grow their personal network, there are just as many people, if not more, who are perfectly fine where they are. For me, a 22 year old single guy living in a moderately sized city, I enjoy putting time and effort into meeting new people and staying as busy as possible.
Personally I feel that we as humans were created for relationship – dating and professional, short-term and long-term, meaningful and not-so-meaningful. So the question to me becomes, “what’s to lose?”
So go! Get your spider on.
photo courtesy of theyec.org