In the first of this three part ‘Networking for people who hate networking’ article, I went in on why networking is an actual thing – why it is necessary, how it can help you and, hopefully, assured you that you are already doing it.
Networking has had a bad name because corporate types with lofty egos (or hot air merchants) turned it into a ‘who’s got the bigger portfolio’ contest. The “Hi I’m Reginald Covington III and my business is turning over £18 billion with agencies in seven countries” routine. How is a start-up business going to compete with that? “Erm hi, I’m Somi and I’ve got some pretty business cards?”
Well, I have good news. The gospel is social media which has the same effect as well as some unexpected pluses – HALLELUJAH! We can use the internet to shortcut some of the awkward parts of face-to-face networking.
Firstly, why do you need to get in touch with this person and for what reason? Think about the outcome you want to get from contacting this person. Then satisfy yourself that they are the right person to answer your questions or partner with.
- How accomplished are they at what they do – check articles they have written, awards and recognitions, endorsements by their peers, are other people in their industry following them, etc.?
- How accessible are they – often the biggest names in your industry are the least available, so who is number 2 & 3 in that circle? You might have more luck going slightly further down the list.
- What do you have to offer them? Some people will gladly give you a paragraph or two of advice for free. Most people remember what it was like to start in their success journey. They might recommend a book or website that can answer your questions. However, if you are looking for something more like a partnership or working together, first understand how that could actually work for both of you to benefit.
Here are three effective ways of networking which don’t involve feeling too nervous about awkward questions.
There’s nothing wrong with approaching someone on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Think about it. The reason why they have created a profile that you can see is so they can be seen (although not necessarily to be approached). So begin by doing reasonable research on them. You don’t need to know about their family or where they went on holiday.
You can find out more from forum discussions, a panel on the area you are interested in and wild card searches on Google. The more specific you can be, the more helpful your research will be. Just typing ‘success’ in a Twitter search is less helpful than ‘success + Nigeria + UK + female + media’, for example.
Yes you guessed it. It’s just like the first but instead you ask your contacts, friends and followers to recommend someone. Post a simple message on your status asking for an expert in this or anyone with experience in that. Your contacts will give you a shortlist that you can research at leisure. You can also find out who those people follow and engage with.
That’s the best part. The hard work of vetting someone has been done for you. People will suggest contacts from their own networks that they are proud to endorse. No one wants to endorse a wasteman (unless you are actually looking for someone to collect your waste). We are most likely to suggest the best people we know rather than the worst. You’ll have no excuse to be stuck for leads.
Just by setting out your stall and sharing your story, you attract people to your corner of the internet. Here’s how it works – as you talk about what you’re doing, you use words that come up in other people’s searches. Most blogging platforms either suggest ‘tags’ and keywords, or ask you to add them yourself. Those words are used to suggest to other people blogging on the topic that they might like to read your stuff. The internet does the work for you. All you have to do is just write or record your experience. That could be on YouTube or Soundcloud as well as Tumblr, WordPress or any of the many platforms available.
The same rules apply. Once you have identified someone you would like to connect with, look them up. See what else they are into and who else is plugged into their network. Remember that everyone has something to offer – especially you. Even if someone is less experienced than you, they might just be able to contribute something that you hadn’t considered yet.
Right. So you’ve got the right person. They aren’t Richard Branson or Bill Gates so they are likely to get back to you. Finally, you’ve worked out what you need from them and what you have to offer. Great! Now what? Let’s approach them.
The difference with Social Media Networking vs. Face-to-Face is… you often get one hit to make the right impression. One email, one approach, one message. The other person forms their opinion based largely on the five or six lines you send. Imagine if you get a message from someone you don’t know who is being over familiar about something you’ve spent years and sacrificed much to build; or they are sound vague and wishy-washy. Delete. Delete. Delete. Here are some tips to help you out:
Have a Social Profile. Before you send make your move, be sure you can be found online. That’s you as a person rather than a brand. People value interacting with people. As much as you want to get your logo and company out there, make sure people can find YOU. Nine times out of ten, the first thing I will do when I get a message from someone I don’t know is type their name into a search engine. I use an about.me site with a brief resume as well as LinkedIn. It means I can keep my Facebook profile private – i.e. no embarrassing holiday photos for my potential business partner to see, thanks.
Don’t be too personal. They are not your friend. They are an accomplished individual with feelings. Be respectful and polite. Before your send your message to them, ask a COUPLE of friends (and a mentor if you have one) to look at it for you. Someone else’s perspective is always helpful.
Be a bit knowledgable. It pays to understand what you are talking or asking about. For example, if you are looking for a distributor for your music and you’re asking another artist, research who their current distributor is. Then ask them what it was about that company that made the artist choose to work with them. Give them an opportunity to engage with you on something they know about which isn’t easily available on the internet. Speaking of which…
Never ask ‘why’. Asking why someone did something or not is actually not very helpful. What you’re getting is an opinion. When journalists ask why, it only gives them a headline. What you want is their strategy or motivation – so not ‘why’ but ‘how’ or ‘what’. Asking someone how they became successful is not the same as why they became successful. Why can also sound a little aggressive. Avoid it if you can.
Use a public forum first. With Twitter especially, there’s a tendency to request a DM or PM of Facebook. Think of it another way, would you ask a stranger you hardly know to go into a private room with you? If someone asked you to do that, would you? Using Google’s site search is great for finding out what’s being talked about and where [search topic + site:domain.com] to see who talking about what on that social media site. Then reply to one of their public messages first.
Act on their advice. When you reach out to someone and they take the time to respond, be courteous and give them some feedback. Say ‘thanks for recommending that book. I’ve ordered it and it’s on its way”. It makes them feel like their input is valid (and who doesn’t want that) and it also keeps you in conversation with them.
Networking doesn’t just stay online. If you do have to do the ‘standing in a room of people and mingle’ routine, check out the next part of this article for some life saving tips. They will make you feel less like you’d rather the ground swallowed you up whenever you hear the n-word.
Bernard P Achampong, 2015