Tips for building relationships—online and offline—
with a like-minded community.
It’s a small world—now more than ever, as it becomes increasingly possible to connect with anyone, anywhere in the world. Yet the sheer number of channels for making “real world” and online connections can be overwhelming: tradeshows, conventions, webinars, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. How do you use these to your advantage without getting lost or burnt out?
First mistakes in networking—online and offline.
Everyone today needs to have a social media strategy—or so we’re told. According to social media-savvy entrepreneur Doug Davidoff, this is a common mistake: “Social media is not strategic, it’s tactical—it’s a means, not an end.
“What’s happening with social media is the same thing that happened with branding,” he says. “Marketing consultants and agencies loved the idea of branding because they could turn it into an end and charge for it. The idea that you could go through a branding exercise—‘I’m going to change my logo and that’s going to change what people say about me’—that’s where the silliness comes in. As Dan Sullivan says, your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what your customers say it is.”
In-person events are fraught with similar traps: “I loathe the word ‘networking,’” says Shannon Waller, coach, program designer, and team specialist at Strategic Coach. “It throws me back to 1980s networking events, where everyone exchanged business cards, went home, put them in their Rolodex, and fooled themselves into thinking they’d actually got some work done.”
“The only certainty I can give about social media,” Doug says, “is that if you see it as a broadcast platform, you will fail.” Shannon agrees: “Broadcasting yourself over social media is like handing out those business cards and thinking you’re doing business: Don’t fool yourself.”
What does tactical networking look like?
Social media has been called “the biggest cocktail party in the world.” So does everyone need to be there? Doug gives a qualified “Yes, but not in the way most people are saying you should.” Page-hits, Twitter followers, Facebook “likes,” blog-post comments—these are common goals in a social media strategy, but they’re meaningless, he says, if they aren’t connected to some kind of follow-up behavior.
“Who are you, and what are you trying to do? Who are your customers, and what are they trying to do?” These questions will give you better direction, and show you how to use each network tactically. Your strategy is the bigger vision that lends an overarching purpose that all your individual tactics serve.
“Instead of having something because you think you should have it,” Shannon says, “it helps to think about networking in terms of building a relationship and creating value.” How this rewards you is often indirect: You make a connection for someone else, who later connects someone else back to you. In the book Tribal Leadership, they call these connections “triads.”
Do what you’re passionate about and would be doing anyway—that’s Shannon’s advice—like Hugh MacLeod, who made a practice of drawing a business-card-sized cartoon every day and posting it online. This led him to a full-time career as a cartoonist, author of several books, and business consultant. “It’s ultimately about creating a genuine, natural expression of you and your company, and going out there to find a community of like-minded people,” says Shannon.
In other words, says Doug, forget about the ROI: “Social media is a conduit, a cultivator tactic, a hook. If you’ve got good bait, the fish will bite, and if you’ve got good tools, you can reel them in. But you’ve got to have value to share—a story, good content, something that lets people listen and learn and participate. Otherwise all you can do is say, ‘Buy from me!’” The content you’ve created lends you credibility, and an important part of your larger strategy is knowing how you mean to spend that credibility.
What’s the best advice for making helpful, useful real-life connections? Shannon recommends Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. And instead of the scattershot business card tactic at tradeshows, she points to Program participants Noah and Daniel Katz, who have created a workbook, CD, and an app called The Trade Show Results Multiplier. It’s designed as a remedy to the frustration of sending team members to conferences, never knowing what they’d get back. “This helps their representatives be intentional,” she says, “to figure out who they want to meet and what their criteria are for who to do business with, rather than just wandering around for two-and-a-half days.”
The multiplier effect of sharing.
The things you share with others give them a way to get to know who you are without you having to say it directly. And sharing, it turns out, is far more powerful than advertising: “When I tweet or share somebody else’s content or recommendation,” Doug says, “it gets five to 10 times the response than when I share my own.”
“A big part of the value you can create in a network is by acting as a filter,” says Shannon. “Because I’m a voracious reader, I’ll read every book on a topic I care about, like Difficult Conversations, Crucial Conversations, and Fierce Conversations, then just recommend the one ‘conversations’ book I like the most (which is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, by the way). Then others don’t have to do all that reading, and I strengthen our connection by helping them find a valuable idea.”
How do you know what to share? Doug likens it to wearing different hats: You see things through a different prism based on which hat you’re wearing, whether it’s your business-person hat or your social-life hat, and different outlets lend themselves more appropriately to each of your different “hats.” “Do your customers really want to engage with you on Facebook?” he asks. “Nine times out of ten, the answer is ‘no.’”
Shannon points to several Strategic Coach® concepts and tools as a good filter for determining what to share: “If you’re coming from creating value, gratitude, Positive Focus, Unique Ability, or D.O.S., you’re safe.”
Listening is 80 percent of the value.
“How good would a conversation be if I was just talking?” Doug asks. “Eighty percent of the value of social media is in listening.” This is the quickest way to find out what your audience is interested in and concerned about.
In a real 10x sense, it’s the fastest, easiest, cheapest, biggest way to read their minds. Hours of research used to give Doug a sliver of information; now he can get the full picture in just minutes: “What are my competitors saying? What are they doing? What are the people I really care about saying and doing? It’s because of this listening that the people who follow me say, ‘How do you know all this stuff?’”
“You can set up the basics at first and not do much,” Shannon says, “which is fine. Then you can observe people you like and respect, and that will educate you.”
Doug sees social media as a chain reaction:
Following → listening → learning → ability to communicate
You control the flow.
Shannon likens the use of social media and face-to-face networking to the “rhumb line” in sailing: A sailboat seldom follows a straight line toward its destination, but crosses back and forth across it as it tacks with the wind. Similarly, she says, you control the flow of how involved you are in networking activities. The only danger is having these become a distraction or a way to “hide out” from challenging work. How can you decide what’s valuable and what’s a time-waster? She offers two tests: “Is this related to my focus activities?” and “Will anyone ever write me a cheque for this?”
Several months ago, Doug dropped the volume of the tweets he was sending out: At that point, other things they were doing were more tactically important and valuable. “Now we’re in stronger shape because of those things we did, so we have the capacity to raise the volume on Twitter again.”
It’s also helpful to know where you get your energy. The Myers-Briggs model defines introversion and “extraversion” by where you go to get your energy back. When you factor in your natural inclinations, you can build a balanced approach to networking that won’t burn you out: You dip in and out as it serves you and your goals.
Claiming your place in the big small world.
Networking today has come light years from “schmoozing.” But it’s just as erroneous to take on responsibility for making the whole planet “like” you. As Dan Sullivan says, the people you really want to meet are cheque-writers—the very specific individuals who will appreciate and benefit from your unique problem-solving capabilities. And never before in human history has it been so easy to meet them.
“In my mind,” Dan says, “what has happened over the past half-century is a genuine human miracle—totally unexpected, unexplainable, and undeserved—but a miracle that, now that it’s happened, can forever be taken advantage of on an individual level.”
Ultimately, the only “right” way to network is your way. “The point of being an entrepreneur is freedom,” Shannon points out, “so the most important thing about your networking is that it gives you the freedom to be yourself.”
Doug Davidoff, Imagine Business Development, is a sales expert, blogger, Tweeter, and You x 10™ participant.
Shannon Waller is a coach, program designer, team specialist, and connector extraordinaire at Strategic Coach.