Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Here Are Four Trends In Networking That Could Hurt Your Career

There are four trends in networking that I have seen these recently:

1. Too much online focus.  There has been much attention given to social media the last few years. The internet has certainly changed the way we interact, but some people are creating a lattice of weak connections and fooling themselves that digital connections have meaningful long-term power.

(I always get in trouble when I write about this subject.  I get notes that say I am "old-school" or "out of touch".  Last week one woman told me I did not understand the new way to network. She said the link was more important that investing time to meet for coffee -- umm, okay.  I am a proponent of social media, I encourage people to meet others and cultivate relationships via the internet, and I know many have received business via their social media activities. However, most people I talk with get their referral business and other opportunities from the humans they know in the real world).

I have a rule that I do not accept connections in LinkedIn and Facebook from people I have not gotten to know personally.  Most of the time this means we have met in person (or had a phone call). I call my "linking policy" the "Coffee, Meal or Beer Rule".  Critics say that I am leaving a plethora of referrals behind by not linking with anyone with a pulse, but I see few who spend much time helping random strangers.

Networking is about developing long-term and mutually-beneficial relationships.  That is more than being on Facebook together.  This does not mean that the digital tools are not valuable, but I believe they are only part of the mix.

2.  Protecting time.  Much is written by experts advising others to not take meetings with new people who want have a conversation.  While I am careful about not talking too many meetings, to eliminate all these "get to meet you meetings" would take away many of the most powerful connections I have developed over the years.  I am open to meetings with people who call me as long as they are willing to meet at a time and place that works for me.  I am a morning person, so these are often done early at the Starbucks near my home.  A relationship has to start somewhere and a coffee is a great way to get past the facade of what is found in the online world.

I am not against "protecting time", as that is important (we all only have 24 hours per day).  But too many people use this to pre-judge who is worthy of their time.   If you get to strict against the serendipity of meeting new people then you will miss out on the gems.

There is a fine line here for consultants who sell their time, as there is a difference between a networking meeting and someone who wants free consulting.  However, most people are not hourly consultants, so this is not apples to apples.

3.  Wanting it too fast.  Meeting someone once does not make them part of your network.... it makes them someone you have met.  There is a big difference between someone you have encountered (online or in person) and someone with whom you have cultivated a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship.  People do business with those they know, like and trust -- However we now have a tendency to think we "know" people upon a single meeting.  It used to take time to get to know someone, and "like and trust" came along (or didn't) with that process.  Too often we abandon a deeper relationship and stick with the superficial.

You cannot really know a person because you chatted for five minutes, traded business cards, and sent a LinkedIn request!

4.  Not networking at all.  Some people think it is a waste of time to meet new people.  They do not want or need new friend.  The rest of us can always benefit from having more connections.  If you run from the chances to get to know people in your business community, you are not in the loop for the opportunities they may have to refer your direction.

What other trends do you see when you are out networking?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


James B said...

Great piece - I agree with all your points but especially like point 1.

Social media is really only an additional method of communication rather than a replacement for meeting other people.

Stephanie Ethe said...

I agree with you on most points. However, I allow followers on facebook and LinkedIn that I haven't met face to face. There are many that because of the connection on these social media have led to face to face meetings and them becoming part of my working network. So you might want to rethink that method, especially if there is someone who you would like to do business with or connect with that someone else in your social network knows personally and can give you an intro. The rest would be up to you.

thomsinger said...

Stephanie and James-

thanks for the comments.

Stephanie.... while I do not argue that sometimes random links lead to more meaningful relationships.... I speak at conferences to over 10,000 people in a year. The number of requests that come in (if accepted) would mean that the majority of connections would be strangers.... and thus those I know and love would be lost in all the noise.

For me, social media must be social... and without some foundation of a real connection the chance for those great random people who grow would be lost in a sea of too many who wouldn't.

Twitter is different, and I do follow tons of people I do not know, and a small small few have grown to deeper friendships. But for me, FB and LinkedIn need parameters.