Too often people start out with a networking strategy to grow their network by simply adding more connections. While adding more connections is part of it, when you are looking at adding value rather than just making your network bigger, this approach has to change.
To use that worn out business adage, go after the low hanging fruit first. There is more latent value in your existing network that is not being taken advantage of.
Here are a few steps to kick-start your networking activities:
Identify your advocates
While you will never be Justin Beiber with tens of millions of ‘Beliebers’ all around the world, everyone has their advocates; those people who believe in you and are passionate about helping you to succeed.
This is not about reaching out and asking for something, but rather making a conscious effort to get in touch with one of these people every day for a month with something that is valuable, relevant, and meaningful to them. Think about sharing content, making introductions, and offering advice or feedback.
The goal is to maintain and develop the relationship that already exists.
Identify your top 30 advocates and commit to contacting one a day for a month, following this month you can either start from the beginning again with the same list or start a fresh list.
Tip: If you are active on Twitter you can use tools such as commun.it to identify your most engaged followers.
Identify the relationships that have fizzled out
This is an activity that can fill many people with dread but offers huge potential.
Dormant ties are the people you haven’t seen for a long time, that you used to know well, but with whom you have fallen out of contact. These dormant ties offer a lot of untapped potential value to be unlocked.
As we have said before, there is a lot of value in your weak ties. Dormant ties offer this value without as much work as cultivating new relationships because these people already know you, so there should be an element of trust already in place. Therefore it takes a lot less time as you are not starting a relationship from scratch.
If you are looking to seek out advice on a project, a new job, or if you’re looking for talent to join your company, try re-igniting your dormant ties – research shows that they can provide more novel ideas and information than the strong ties in your close network.
Pick a problem you are trying to solve, and contact one dormant connection a week for a month to re-connect with. Meet up with them for a coffee or lunch and chat about your problem.
To become a high-performing networker it is imperative that you open up your networks to variability in ideas and experiences. It is the norm in business to segment everything into clearly (or not so clearly) defined silos, and the problem with this is that when people’s thoughts and ideas are so closely aligned, you end up just reinforcing more of the same things.
The interesting things in life happen in the grey areas between the silos – fresh ideas require fresh thinking and approaches. It is your job to assess your network for over-dependancies and gaps.
Increasing the diversity in your network will increase the chances of serendipitous encounters with interesting people, including those that can open up the best opportunities.
Attend a conference or networking event outwith your core business or personal interests
Look to the fringes of networks for fresh and innovative ideas. This will also help you think about how you can plug into other networks outside of your own.
Segmenting your network
Finally, to grow your network effectively you will have to re-design it, or at least, rethink the way you look at your connections. To do this at scale without becoming overwhelmed the first thing you need to do is to segment your network into those with shared interests. When you have set them up, once you have met someone new and you understand them, you should be looking to put them into the relevant segment.
There are a multitude of CRM systems and contact management applications you can use to do this (e.g. Salesforce.com, Contactually). LinkedIn is also increasing the ability to add notes and reminders to connections, but if you’re on Twitter, then lists are a must-have.
Twitter lists can be public or private (meaning only you can see them) and these allow you to split up streams into different groups. Depending on how you want to use them, you can segment your lists into industries, interests, by how much they engage with you – but the important thing to consider is how much you want to engage with them.
Not only will this help you to increase engagement but it will also help you to map out your network in more detail.
With this new community mindset you can start thinking about how the groups of people fit together, and where you can add value or leverage those relationships.
Think about how you can segment your connections and, if you’re on it, set up lists on Twitter.
The one thing that stops people’s networks from growing is ego – the need to own the relationships.
Instead, think of your role as introducing people who should know each other, but don’t. By doing this you will start to place yourself at the intersection of disparate networks and become known as a person who adds value.
A great way to connect people is to ask favours – but you don’t necessarily need to ask for yourself. Many of the top performers actually use their social capital to ask for favours on behalf of others in their network thereby further increasing their prominence and positive perception.
Set yourself the goal of introducing and/or engaging with a set amount of people every day or week. Sharing is caring!
Want to know more about how to improve your networking? We will soon be releasing our white paper on networking in the 21st century – subscribe below to receive a copy as soon as it’s released.