The following article by Tim Klabunde was published in the April edition of A/E Rainmaker, a PSMJ Resources publication.
Let’s be real, online networking is not real networking. I am not saying that it can’t be a useful tool; I am simply stating that real networking is about a lot more than just ‘linking’ to other people. Let’s forget the discussion on which online site is better for the moment, and focus on how we can leverage these online sites as an effective tool for expanding our networks. If we can’t do this, then online networking is no better than collecting a stack of business cards.
You would probably agree that networking is much more than contacts; it is what you do with those contacts that differentiate rain makers from everyone else. In his book Rain Making, Ford Harding identifies networking as ‘helping people.’ It is about providing others with assistance knowing that others in your network will do the same for you. If you were to check out many professionals’ contact lists you would find that they are full of hundreds of contacts, but very few networking relationships. This is because, as Harding indicates, most people fail to understand that networking is about what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Online networks are no different. Success is not intrinsic in simply making contact, success is found by what you make of every contact. Here are the five concepts that successful online networkers live by.
1. Networking is more than contacts. What this means is that online networking is not a successful tool unless you can use it to achieve the overarching objective of helping other people. The good news is that online networking can be a great asset to you in doing just this. Most sites are set up so that you can leverage your online network to provide others with referrals, connect others in your network, and keep your network contact information up to date.
2. Online referrals. Probably the most underutilized aspect of online networking is the ability to refer work and clients to others in your network. The area where we have seen the most success so far is the use of online networks to pass along job openings. If you are already linked in to an online network, I would recommend trying out this feature to see how you can leverage it. Also, most sites give you the ability to block your contacts from others in your network. Carefully weigh this in light of helping other people. I have found it beneficial to allow others to see my contacts so that we can more effectively work together.
3. Link others in your network. How many times since you started using an online networking site have you used your network to connect your friends? Online networking creates an environment where passing along a relationship is easy and mutually appreciated. If you are already part of an online networking site, try connecting your friends to help them be more successful.
4. Keeping your contacts up to date. Online networking sites provide a great way to keep your contacts up to date. Since online networks are linked to individuals and not to their respective companies, you can effectively ‘never lose touch’ through job changes, promotions, and layoffs.
5. Getting the most out of online networking. Whether or not you use online networking tools such as LinkedIn.com or Facebook.com you need to consider your networking plan. Develop your objective and then determine the tools that work best for achieving your personal goals. For me, I find that using Microsoft Outlook linked to my Palm Treo is ideal; for others, there is nothing better than a full CRM. Whatever your method, remember to establish a follow-up plan that will ensure you are helping other people on a regular basis.
Establishing your plan for networking is essential to determining how you will use the online networking sites. Next time you get or send the e-mail “I’d like to add you to my professional network…” determine if you are simply doing it as an effort to stack business cards, or as a tool to strengthen your network.