Connect: Networks Matter

My coworker, Colin Bower, has a problem that I’m fairly sure you’ve never faced. Last year his children were abducted by his ex-wife and taken to Egypt against his will. It’s been over a year that Colin has been working on getting his kids back. And how will he do it? Using a network.

So far, every bit of success we’ve had in moving the story forward has come through our networks, which were built by years and years of relationship building and development. We had access to the Vice President of the United States, several media outlets such as NBC, CNN and USA Today, and several other business and industry leaders, all via our work on social networks.

If that’s too obtuse, how about the world of job searching?

The economy is not nearly recovered, and even as it attempts to pull itself up and out of the muck, it’s a largely jobless recovery. That means that many people are still out of work, for more time than they’ve ever stayed unemployed in the past. The jobless rate is around 1 in 9 in the US overall, and much worse in places like Detroit, Arizona and California. How do people use their networks to keep opportunities alive?

Let’s talk about the online tools and what you can do to build a better network.

LinkedIn – Not Just a Resume Service

LinkedIn is alive and well. It’s a vibrant networking site that allows you to join groups based on location, to submit updates and information to your network (there’s a section that looks and feels like Twitter, that lets you post the business version of “what are you doing?” to your network. First, my recommendation is to tidy up your profile. Here’s a post to help you make your LinkedIn profile work for you.

LinkedIn – Now, Diversify

We tend to network with people from our geography, people from our same industry, and people from our prior affiliations like schools and church. The good news is, these are people who know us. The bad news is that if people are in our geography and that area gets hit by economic problems, everyone suffers. If you’re in an industry that gets hit, then all your contacts will also be hit. See how having a homogeneous network isn’t especially helpful?

Diversify. Go in search of network connections who are in a different geographical region, maybe even other countries. Search out people in your locale that aren’t part of your industry. Seek out people who have very little to do with you, but who might be good networkers (like, say, economic development professionals). Yes, LinkedIn prefers that you know everyone personally, but ask yourself what the downsides are in asking to network with someone via the system. Never recommend someone you don’t know, but why refuse connections from someone you don’t know? (It’s your decision, ultimately.)

Twitter and Blogs

Spend a little time in Twitter Search, looking for people in your location, looking for people talking about your interests and for people in your field but in other areas. Twitter is the serendipity engine. To me, the best networking opportunities are hidden here more than in any other network.

Remember Keith Ferrazzi‘s Never Eat Alone? It’s like he predicted Twitter long before it happened. (Oh, and Keith’s a great guy to follow on Twitter. He points out the good stuff.)

What To Do On Your Networks

Networks need care and feeding, no matter how you lay them out. Via email, phone, or something like Twitter or blog comments, the trick is to feed that network. What do you give it? Interesting information, opportunities and useful connections are a great way to feed your network.

For instance, if you hear of someone with a job opening, why not post it to your social network? Maybe someone needs work that you haven’t even heard needs the help? Being the hinge of such deals, “at the elbow” of such deals, is a great way to build value for your own network.

Be at the Elbow of Every Deal

The best way to deliver value through your network is to deliver as much as you can to others without asking anything in return. The true master of this is Tim Sanders. Author of the bestselling book, Love Is the Killer App, Tim is a tireless networker. He is prone to bouts of calling you up, giving you five high-level connections at important companies, and then hanging up before you can barely say thanks.

Try it yourself. Think of ways you can help others and do it as often as you can spare. The trick becomes this: the more you give without asking for anything back, the more you stay top of mind with others. The more business you bring others, the more secured your place at the table is from then on.

Networks are Living Things, Not Static

Building a list is nothing. You collect a bunch of names and ways to contact them. Who cares?

Building a list that’s worth a damn is everything, and it takes a lot of care, nurturing and effort. You have to remember the little things, like Dave’s kids’ names. You have to remember the big things, like the fact Tom really doesn’t want a referral to a car manufacturer ever again.

If you haven’t contacted someone in three to six months (or longer) and the first thing you do is ask them for something, how do you think they’ll respond? Hint: not very well.

Keep your networks alive. Connect to diverse people. Deliver value much more often than you extract it. And you’ll find yourself in much better shape than without a powerful network.

And, if you found this useful (or if you believe in helping others), please swing by Colin Bower’s Facebook page and consider helping in the ways mentioned.

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