Linkedin, Facebook, and other social networking tools are fine, but they don’t do the work for you.
To put real value in your network (and stay connected to people who are not online) you also need to think about your network in the real world.
I am an introvert. People are often surprised by that because I regularly get up on stages to speak, and I am loud and expressive and Italian. But, I’m also an introvert.
One hazard of being an introvert is that we are not natural networkers — especially in the real world. I went through most of my career thinking that I was the only one who was bad at networking.
Over time, I have learned a few important things that make networking more doable and comfortable (even for introverts).
- Most people consider themselves bad at networking - so if you are struggling, know you are not alone.
- You can get good at networking if you are not good at it today. But you get good at it by doing it, not by reading about it. It gets easier and gets more comfortable with practice. The more you do it, the more sense it makes and the more valuable it gets.
- You can build a network without going to uncomfortable networking events and eating cheese cubes and collecting stacks of business cards. You can do it by meeting a few people you genuinely like each year — and then staying in touch with them.
- You build your network by giving genuine value and kindness to others. The more you do this, you will experience gratitude, fun, and benefits. People who are skeptical about reaching out to people for no other reason than to say hello or express kindness are always telling me how glad they are they tried it — and how surprised they are at the great response.
- Be the one to make the effort to stay in touch. Maintaining contact is a key form of giving to your network.
Your network only has as much value as you put into it.
As always, my two rules of authentic networking apply: “Give when you don’t need anything,” and, “Always give more than you take.”
To take some of the mystery out of this, here are 10 examples of what I mean by “giving” to your network. These are real, valuable, and kind things you can give that builds value into your network in the real world.
10 things you can give your network
- Hello, news: Giving can be as easy as saying hello. It can be an email, a phone call, or a handwritten note. You be the one to stay in touch. When you hear from someone you haven’t connected with in years and they are just saying, “Hi, I was thinking about you,” it makes you smile. Saying hello is a “give.” You are not asking for anything. You are just being thoughtful and kind.
- Remember things: Listen. Remember things people tell you about their life. If you don’t have a great memory, note them in your contact database (I do this). Mention their details when you connect again. Did your son get his black belt? Did you buy the Porsche? How is your daughter doing in New York? It feels good when someone remembers your details. Do this on purpose for others.
- Offer to help: Actually be helpful! Ask them, “What is your challenge right now? How I can help you?” Do something that helps, then don’t keep score. The payback may not be immediate or direct, but the value you give will come back to you in ways that will surprise you.
- Positive feedback: How many emails do you get that say, “Thank you for doing such a great thing, I was really impressed?” When you notice something good, or value something someone did, say “I was really impressed with [that article, that talk, something you did]… it really made a difference to me. Thank you.”
- Say, “Thank you.” I can’t tell you how many people I only hear from when they need a reference, and then after I let them know I did it, I never hear from them again. Saying thank you is a big deal in your network. Thank people a lot and often. Thanking people puts value back into your network.
- Follow up: When you ask someone in your network for something and they give it (like a reference, advice, an introduction) let them know what happened! People like to know that their help helped. Otherwise they just feed help into a black hole and it feels unappreciated. Did you get the job? Did the idea work? It amazes me that most people don’t do this. I had a recruiter once call and thank me for a referral that resulted in a placement – I almost drove off the road! I do all kinds of things people request of me, and almost never hear back about what happened. A good story about this: one time after a job search, the person sent out a thank you email to every single person who was involved with, or they talked to during their search, thanking them and letting them know what happened, and offering to return the favor. This made such an impression on me because it was the one and only time I saw this done!
- Make an introduction: Be astute about helpful introductions you can make. You have then given two people a value without asking for anything in return. Be careful though. Sometimes the introduction is a gift for one person and a favor from the other. Keep your giving and thanking clear when you use your network for introductions.
- A point of interest or enjoyment: If you remember what is important to people and what they like, it gives you an opportunity to point them to great stuff that you run across. Always be thinking of sharing information, resources, and fun things that you come across. Sharing food also works.
- Photos: Photos are such a powerful way of networking. Photos are a great way to keep in touch, and open doors. Share photos of things you saw and did, or of things you are interested in. It is a real, personal touch that’s easy for the receiver to deal with — they don’t even need to read anything! It’s instant. I always look at photos people send me. When I do something interesting or unusual, I send photos out to people to connect with them again. It makes an impression.
- Video Mail: Video mail is like a super-duper photo. It’s an excellent way to make a contact. It really stands out. It’s very personal. People really appreciate it. And it’s so easy. Just google “free video mail”, pick a service, and say hello to someone “live” with a video. The service will record and store your video and send your recipient a video snapshot with a play button and a link. I use a service called Eyejot.
The more value and effort you put into your network, the more value you will get out of it. Practice. Pick a list of people to stay in touch with. See what happens.
This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.