How many of you thought this post was going to be about Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, and BLOGS?? Wrong! My thoughts today are about the value of old-fashioned social networking, as opposed to tweeting and posting to online services like LinkedIn and Facebook. Building a network of professional contacts involves personal contact – putting a face, or at least a voice, with a name. Creating your personal network takes place over years and requires a lot of effort from you to maintain.
Why bother with networking?
Let’s say you are at a professional conference (I assume that many of us still go to those). The presentations have finished for the day, your backside is tired from sitting and your brain is in overload. Should you,
(a) Go to your room and take a nap?
(b) Swim or jog for an hour to clear your mind and relax your body?
(c) Attend the optional meet-and-greet in a downstairs conference room? Or
(d) Go and catch up on all the email and work that got assigned to you today?
Given the topic of this post, you can guess that I recommend C – attending the meet-and-greet.
The informal nature of these business/social meetings gives you a chance to know people from other organizations and companies, often geographically dispersed. These people share your professional interests and often possess skills or knowledge that you may need someday. Moreover, these folks want to know you too and for the same reasons. Having a direct contact in an organization or from a location may help you solve a future management challenge or get a trusted recommendation.
Networking inside your organization is valuable also. In larger companies, many people never meet others in the organization that can facilitate solving problems or getting resources. Networking within the organization, by participating in extracurricular activities or just keeping up with folks with whom you worked on previous projects, gives you a starting point when you need help or information. People often return phone calls or schedule meetings more readily with people they already know.
OK, another scenario is that you have been invited to the OnRamp High Tech Happy Hour down on Sixth Street this Thursday at 5:30. So once again you have to decide if it is worth going. Or how about the professional association meetings held in your town? We have PMI meetings, ACM chapters, American Management meetings, and many professional get togethers here in Austin. You have to go and meet people in a social setting or in a mutual interest in order to get to know them. You will be surprised how many people I meet who later I reach out to for help with a problem that I am having.
And let’s not forget to socialize with the people in our own organization. Some of you work for large companies or say the government. When you have a chance to reachout to people you don’t work with on a day to day basis it helps you form what we call a network.
Maintaining a social network made easy – well easier
You do not have to spend countless hours on the phone, golf course or at lunch to maintain your social network. You do need to spend some thoughtful time touching base and maintaining the contact. Like what?
- Share interesting professional articles. Add a short personal note – “thought you might like this”
- If you happen to hear about an achievement of a social contact – publishing an article, getting a promotion, winning a contract – send a short “Congratulations” note.
- Try – really try – to remember the names of people in the organization that you interact with occasionally and use their name when greeting them in the hallway, cafeteria or if you happen to run into them outside of the office environment.
- Create a presence on LinkedIn or other professional association sites and provide brief updates on your activities and interests. Invite those you meet into your list of connections.
- If you are capable (time and resources) of helping a new contact accomplish an objective, do it. Perhaps you can answer a question or recommend a resource or even complete a task, your assistance will be remembered and valued.
- Send a note that is not work related, such as a “Happy Holiday” email or share a good joke or cartoon with a member of your social network. Use this sparingly, since the relationship revolves around shared work interests. If you do not know the person well enough to understand his or her sense of humor or culture, better not to follow this suggestion than offend someone.
- If you are having a project wrap up celebration, invite some of your inside social network contacts who may have peripherally helped in the project’s success.
- If one of your network contacts posts a professional blog, send a brief, “saw your blog post on XYZ; appreciated your insight.”
Some additional reading on this subject:
If you have additional recommendations on maintaining a professional social network, I hope you will share.