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. That often surprises people because I regularly get up on stage to speak, and am loud, expressive and Italian. But I’m also an introvert.
One hazard of being an introvert is we are not natural networkers—especially in the real world. I went through most of my career thinking I was the only one who was bad at networking.
Over time I’ve learned a few important things that make networking more doable and comfortable, even for introverts:
1. Most people consider themselves bad at networking. If you are struggling, know you are not alone.
2. You can become good at networking, even if you aren’t good at it today. But you get good at it by doing it, not by reading about it. It gets easier and more comfortable with practice. The more you do it, the more sense it makes and the more valuable it gets.
3. You can build a network without going to uncomfortable networking events where you eat cheese cubes and collect stacks of business cards. You can do it by meeting a few people you genuinely like each year and staying in touch with them.
4. You build your network by giving genuine value and kindness to others. The more you do this, the more you will experience gratitude, fun and benefits. People who are skeptical about reaching out to people just to say hello or express kindness always tell me how glad they are they tried it-and how surprised they are at the great response.
5. 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. 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 build value into your real-world network:
1. Say hello.
Giving can be as easy as saying hello. It can be an email, a phone call, or a handwritten note. Be the one to stay in touch. When you hear from someone you haven’t connected with in years who just wants to say, “Hi, I was thinking about you,” it makes you smile.
Saying hello is a “give.” You aren’t asking for anything. You are just being thoughtful and kind.
2. Remember things.
Listen. Remember things people tell you about their lives. 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 it for others.
3. Offer to help.
Be helpful. Ask, “What is your challenge right now? How I can help you?”
Do something that helps, but 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.
4. Give 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 your [article, talk, something he did]. It really made a difference to me. Thank you.”
5. Say thank you.
I can’t tell you how many people I hear from only when they need a reference. After I let them know I referred them, I never hear from them again.
Saying thank you is a big deal. Thank people a lot and often. Thanking people puts value into your network.
6. Follow up.
When you ask someone in your network for something and they give it (a reference, advice, an introduction), let them know what happened. People like to know they helped, otherwise they feel 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 for people, and almost never hear what happened.
One time after a job search, the job hunter sent a thank-you email to every person who was involved with the search. The person thanked everyone, let them know what happened, and offered to return the favor. This made such an impression on me because it was the only time I saw someone do this.
7. Make an introduction.
Be astute about helpful introductions you can make. You can give two people 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.
If you remember what is important to people and what they like, it gives you an opportunity to point them to great stuff you run across. Always think to share information, resources and fun things you come across. Sharing food also works!
9. Send photos.
Photos are a powerful way to network. Photos are a great way to keep in touch and open doors. Share photos of things you saw and did, or things you are interested in. It is a real, personal touch that’s easy for the receiver-he doesn’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 to people to connect with them again. It makes an impression.
10. Send videos.
A video is like a super-duper photo. It’s an excellent way to make a contact. It stands out, is personal, and people 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.