Build your social network - The Start-up of You

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Right after I finish writing this article, I’m going to buy The Start-Up of You, by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Among other things, it is about the real way to build a social network. I’ve networked for years and thought I knew pretty much all I needed to…until I read the excerpt written by Reid in the February 6th edition of Fortune Magazine, which, ironically, was forwarded to me by an ally in my network.
 
Reid knows a thing or two about social networking in this generation—he founded LinkedIn, and was an initial investor in Facebook and Zynga. He has taken the premise I believe in—first do for others, before you expect them to do for you—and added some fascinating research and advice.
 
I agree that networking is an I/we activity. To be successful, it means thinking about what the other person needs and wants and making a genuine gesture to help that person. He acknowledges that self-interest is in the background but it shouldn’t be the first thing you lead with. To be a good networker, is to be authentic.
 
I think networking with strangers is a lot of wasted effort and Reid agrees. And it’s not a transaction. I love the way he defines it, “…the most important are your close allies. Most professionals maintain five to 10 active alliances. What makes a relationship an alliance? …someone you consult regularly for advice; you proactively share and collaborate on opportunities together. You keep your antennae attuned to an ally’s interests, and when it makes sense to pursue something jointly, you do so. … you talk up an ally…. and when an ally runs into conflict you defend him and his reputation, and he does the same thing for you.”
 
Allies are few in number but the next concentric ring in the circle can contain hundreds of people from former jobs, people you met at conferences and just from day-to-day introductions. Sociologists refer to these contacts as “weak ties;” people with whom you don’t spend a lot of high quality time with but you’re still friendly with them. Reid points out that research from sociologist Mark Granovetter found that 82% of job hunters found their positions through contacts they saw only occasionally. He explains the logic. Your inside circle of allies tend to know the same information you do; weak ties are linked to thousands of other contacts and it’s a wider net of new information. Reid’s advice is to reach out to a diverse group of acquaintances, in order to broaden your network’s reach.
 
Additional research of primates, by Robin Dunbar, in the 1990’s concluded that humans should be able to maintain relationships with roughly 150 people at a time. The military and many businesses organize their people into groups of about 150. It’s called Dunbar’s Number. Reid points out that this number can be expanded with social networking, and there are potentially three degrees of separation.
 
The allies, weak ties and other people you know he places in the first-degree connections. Friends of friends are the second-degree connections and those friends of friends are in the third-degree orbit. The key here is that with three degrees of separation, there is always at least one person who knows the “origin person.” As he puts it, “That’s how trust is preserved.” I have always preached using a “warm call” when reaching out to someone you don’t know, and I like Reid’s scientific description of why that works.
 
Now some of Reid’s how to’s:
When you are asking someone to introduce you to someone in their network, give them a compelling reason why they should do it. And, ideally, the reason should benefit both parties.
 
Highest response rates come when you use phrases such as, “You mention…” or “I noticed that…” It means you took the time to carefully read the other person’s profile. You aren’t making a generic request.
 
The best networks are “narrow and deep and wide and shallow.” You need both a narrow and deep network of allies, and a wide and shallow network of weak ties, and other people you know.
 
Give what Reid calls “a small gift” to someone who has a need. He says, “A small gift is something that’s easy for you to give, unique to the relationship, and unusually helpful for the other person. Classic small gifts include relevant information, introductions, and advice.”
 
I took Reid’s advice: I looked at my calendar for the past six months and identified the five people I spend the most time with; then I determined if I was happy with their influence on me. Next, I introduced two people I felt should know each other; then I asked someone to introduce me to someone in their network. Then I identified ten people I’d ask for advice if I’d lost my job, or if my career were in trouble. He suggests that I spend more time investing in those relationships now. And then I identified a weak tie in my network, with whom I’d like a stronger alliance, and forwarded Reid’s article as a “small gift.” I’m planning on taking my networking skills up a notch in 2012. How about you?


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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