Several weeks ago, I fell into a network trap. I asked someone for her business card without getting to know her first. We were at a networking event so it wasn’t rude or unexpected. She gave the card to me although I could tell she wasn’t thrilled with me or my request.
People do this all the time. They exchange cards with acquaintances and then go back to the office and file them. Perhaps they add them to their emailing list and then they congratulate themselves: “Wow! I’m up to 1000 people on my email list. I’m hot stuff!”
The problem is that there is a big difference between developing genuine networks and advertising. When I send out a tweet about a new report I’ve created, I’m advertising. I’m also advertising when I send an e-zine to my list. Of course, I have received permission from those who receive these messages to send them, so I’m not doing anything wrong. However, it would be a mistake to think of this as networking.
Networks require real connections. What does that mean? I’ll be specific.
A real connection is active, reciprocal, and personal.
Active. You don’t passively watch your contacts’ activity on a Facebook wall or through a LinkedIn update. Instead, you have ongoing, active interactions with these people online, in person, or both.
Reciprocal. Sending email news blasts or Twitter updates to a group doesn’t signify a reciprocal relationship. However, if an individual responds to an email newsletter and you engage in a dialogue, then you’re exchanging ideas in a reciprocal relationship. Two-way relationships are key to real connections.
Personal. You have information about the person beyond what a passer-by on the street might observe. You might know that they collect Velvet Elvis art, they can’t sleep unless they’ve checked Cute Overload that day, or that they’ve had a large hole in their basement for years from an unfinished DIY whirlpool project (all facts about real people who will remain unidentified for sake of their dignity). By the way, what you know about the person doesn’t have to be embarrassing; it’s just more entertaining to list slightly dubious facts in a blog post.
The implications are critical. It’s not enough to collect cards, we have to know people. Of course, we can’t keep up with the 2000 people we can recognize when we look at their pictures. So what gives? The answer is coming in an upcoming post. Stay tuned for more networking tips… (and subscribe, if you haven’t already, to find the answer).