If you haven’t familiarized yourself with social networking, you are significantly behind the times! If you regularly read my blog, you probably know that I am an active member of the popular LinkedIn “social networking” website. I find that it is invaluable for business networking. I also have a Facebook page.
When created and employed correctly, a network can be invaluable. It can help grow your business, provide employment opportunities, create social outlets, expand your knowledge, and allow you to help others. It can even lead to life-long friendships that are priceless.
But how, exactly, do we maximize the value of a social networking site?
To maximize their value, we must understand what it means to network.
When it comes to networking, there are all sorts of newly defined terms and phrases that bloggers and other writers are employing. There is the “windmill network,” the “super networker,” and more. But — really — what does it all mean?
A network is technically defined as “a large and widely distributed group of people or things such as stores, colleges, or churches that communicate with one another and work together as a unit or system.”
The key to a network with value is understanding and focusing on the elements of communication and working together. In other words, what value is there for you or someone in your network if you don’t actually communicate with one another, or if you don’t work together in some way?
The Numbers Game I Don’t Play
I’ve often read the advice that for a LinkedIn profile to be maximized, a person must have a minimum of 500 contacts.
At 500, the LinkedIn website lists “500+” on your profile, even if you have 2000 contacts. There is currently an overall limit of 30,000 connections, and a person with that many people in his or her network is unable to thereafter “accept” a networking invitation.
The people who play the numbers game are called “LIONS” on LinkedIn, and “Social Whores” on Facebook. (Just reporting the facts!)
A “LION” is an acronym for Linked In Open Networker. These folks advertise that they are open to accepting any connection request. Their goal is to grow their numbers.
Being one to question most everything that seems to be missing a logical connector, I have to ask, “Why?” Why is the number of people in our network an issue? Why is 500 the magic number? And, how valuable is it to have 500+ contacts in one’s network?
I’ve read articles that advise that your profile won’t come up in a search by an employment recruiter, for example, if you don’t have at least 500 connections. I’ve also read that a hiring authority “won’t take you seriously” unless you reach the magic number of 500.
In my experience, that’s a bunch of hogwash.
In my opinion, the only people with a real purpose for having that many connections is the network marketer or spammer, someone who wants to mass market directly to others. And, that is not the purpose of a social networking site; in fact, it is frowned upon.
As of today, I have 191 connections in my LinkedIn network. On Facebook, I have 134 “friends”. Those are not numbers that I am automatically able to quote; I had to go look. The numbers don’t matter to me; the people do. And now that these numbers have gotten this large, I am becoming even more selective when it comes to accepting or inviting new connections.
Both LinkedIn and Facebook can serve their purpose if used appropriately. For me, as for most, LinkedIn is a business networking site, and Facebook is more social with its combination of friends, family, community, special interest and business contacts. But regardless of the forum, in both places I am particular about who I invite into my network and my circle of “Friends,” and I’m particular about which invitations from others that I accept.
In other words, for me it is about the actual connection with another human being or group — not the number of contacts. If you are using a social networking site simply to “hand out business cards,” you are not maximizing the potential value inherent with these sites.
To Accept or Not to Accept:
Of all of the people in my two online networks, the vast majority of them sent an invitation to me rather than the other way around. When I get an invitation, the first thing I do is review the individual’s profile. I want to determine several factors:
- Do I know this person (high school, past employment, etc.)?
- If I don’t know the person, do we have common interests?
- If we don’t have common interests and we don’t know one another, why am I being invited to join his/her network?
When it gets to the third level, I will send a note before accepting the request. On Facebook, my note typically reads:
I apologize if I should remember you, but I can’t place the connection. How do we know one another? Or, if we don’t know one another, will you please provide the reason for your friend request? Is there some way you’re thinking I might be of assistance to you?
My approach on LinkedIn is slightly different:
Thank you for your connection request. I’ve reviewed your profile but I am unable to determine the reason for your interest in adding me to your network. Is there some way you are thinking I might be of assistance to you?
To Invite or Not to Invite:
My decision to send a Connection or a Friend request is based on several factors that are similar to my decision to accept or reject a request:
- Do I know you?
- Do we have a shared interest or experience?
- Is there a way I might be able to assist you?
- Do you have something of value to offer me?
In those rare instances where I send a Friend or Connection request, my invitation will look something like this:
[Facebook] Hey! It’s Lynda (Cleek) Watts from high school. It’s been a long time! How have you been?
[LinkedIn] You and I appear to have quite a few common interests, including membership to several of the same LI groups. I’d like to add you to my network. If there is any way in which I might assist you, please don’t hesitate to send me an email.
[LinkedIn] I saw your comment in the (group name) discussion regarding (give detail). I’m impressed. I’m likewise impressed by your profile. Let’s connect! Please, let me know if there is any way in which I might be of assistance to you.
In each case, and regardless of the exact wording, my goal is to make a personal connection — not just become a name on a list. And, most often, my invitation or my reply to an invitation quickly invokes a parlay of notes or emails. This, in turn, allows my new “Friend” or “connection” and I to begin to get to know one another.
The Importance of “Memory Data”
What good is it to have someone in your network if you can’t remember that he or she is there? Even with the sorting applications available on most social networking sites, it is the people who automatically come to mind that hold the most value for us.
A network connection is a human being with whom you connect. Though that may seem obvious, too few people do what it takes to actually connect.
If you have not created “memory data,” you are not networking with a given individual on your connection list. It is the memory data that supplies the connection.
Implanting something in your memory to make your new contact memorable is not easy when it comes to social networking. If you get several requests — or send several requests — in a single day, for example, it’s a real task to not only read each profile but to thereafter remember something unique about each individual. (Try doing that with 30,000 connections!)
Once, when responding to several requests at a time, including two men both by the name of Steve, I mistakenly confused the industries between these gentlemen. In response, Steve #1 sent me an email that said, “Will you marry me?” After re-checking his profile to remind myself who he was, and after picking my jaw up off of the floor, I replied, “Uh … What’s that about?” And he replied, “I just wanted to make sure you remember me this time, and don’t get me confused with the 14 other ‘Steve’s’ in your network.” And, I did.
While I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to send a marriage proposal in an attempt to be noticed and remembered, I am encouraging that you do something to stand out, to make yourself a permanent place in the memory bank of those people in your network.
Likewise, do something to remember the people on your Friend or Connections list.
Recently, “John” and I connected on LinkedIn. Because his last name was unique and was the same as a law school buddy of mine, I was 1) able to remember him immediately, and 2) I found the “communication thread” I needed to send him a less generic, more personal note. We began an exchange of notes regarding his family name, which quickly lead to his invitation to meet me for coffee. Given his CEO position with a reputable company, and his community status, it was an important invitation.
By meeting for coffee, we both created the all-important “memory data” that makes a connection a genuinely valuable member of ones network. We learned things about one another that can’t be easily articulated in a profile, such as personality traits. In short, we began to get to know one another, and that is what makes a connection valuable.
But, a face-to-face meeting is not necessary to maximize the value of your network connections.
A friend of mine, Lisa, who I “met” through another friend, Jason, got me started in a network marketing business recently. This came after my initial contact with her to inquire about her expertise in a particular matter. Although she is in the part-time business of network marketing, she did not solicit me; I contacted her for information; and that was the beginning of our relationship. We now talk on the phone nearly every day, our online contact is likewise frequent, I refer to her as “a friend,” yet we’ve never met in person.
When You Haven’t Made a Real Connection, All is not Lost:
Though these stories highlight the value of personally connecting with those in your network, I would be remiss if I did not tell you that I definitely have people in my network who I have no memory of whatsoever, who I have not yet made a personal connection with for one reason or another.
This brings us back to the initial decision of adding or accepting a connection request: By being selective, the value of that connection may not present itself until later — especially when a personal connection is not initially established or when you’ve had difficulties establishing the “memory data.”
For example, there are certainly times when my attempt to connect personally with someone is not reciprocated. I may send a friendly note and get nothing in response. Or, I may accept a connection request and open the door for further communication (i.e, asking a question), but receive nothing or little more than a nod in return. There’s not much one can do in that situation without looking or sounding “pushy” — thus, I do nothing.
When the opportunity arises to reconnect, however, I take it. Today, for example, I sent an email to two different people in my network with whom I have no previous relationship other than the initial connection. I found them by doing a LinkedIn “industry” search amongst my contacts. After a quick review of their respective profiles, I sent each an email asking for assistance with an issue involving real estate. Hopefully, their respective replies will be the catalyst for adding value to our connection.
Ways to Make Yourself Memorable
Hopefully by now you realize how important it is to make a real connection with those people you’ve selected for your network. Becoming a part of their “memory data” and vice versa is critical to making a valuable connection.
While you have little to no control over what someone else may or may not do to make themselves stand out in your mind, there are specific ways you can help others to remember you:
- Include a recent head-shot of yourself in your profile. Having a face to put with the name is always helpful.
- Never send a generic connection request; always personalize it.
- Never accept a friend/connection request without sending a personalized “thank you” note.
- Always sign your name when you write to someone in your network.
- Don’t be too formal. If you sound stilted, you’ll come across as a bore. People don’t usually like bores, and they certainly aren’t memorable. Even when you send a connection request to someone who you hope might hire you, it’s important to “spice up” your short note and make an impression.
- Find a common thread between yourself and the other person, highlight it somehow, and incorporate a question which prompts a reply:
I see that you went to St. Louis University during the same period of time that I attended. Did you ever explore the building where The Exorcist allegedly took place?
You and I are members of many of the same groups, we appear to be about the same age, and we’re both in the entertainment industry. That’s quite a bit to have in common, don’t you think?
Looks like we are both reading the same book right now! Have you gotten to Chapter 12 yet? Let me know when you do; it raises an issue I’d love to discuss with someone.
Creating a memorable relationship with the individuals in your network is the key to maximizing the value of that network. If the majority of names in your contact list are as familiar to you as a page out of the phone book, you are either a LION by choice, or you need to re-evaluate your approach to networking.
Be memorable. Offer your assistance. Infuse your personality into your exchange of notes. Create a legitimate, memorable connection with the person on the other end of the computer.
To network is to communicate with one another and work together. If you aren’t doing that, you aren’t networking.
~Lynda C. Watts