About building your network

Networks like LinkedIn seem to benefit quite a bit from the recession. People unfortunately are losing jobs and need to look for new opportunities, for which the network asset is very important. The problem is that many start building the network when they need it and that’s a common mistake. You should build it when you don’t really need it, so it’s there when you actually do. Here’s what I do, maybe there’s something in there for you as well.

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Image courtesy of GustavoG, actually presenting the FlickrVerse

#1 Build a network based on people you know

I believe that your network on LinkedIn (and others like Xing) is only really valuable when you build it with people you know, people you have actually met, spoken with, engaged with, … any kind of interaction that was big enough for people to remember you. This connection can be face to face, online, over the telephone… but when you send these people an invite to join your network, your name should at least ring a bell. The reason this is important is that you want to count on your network when it matters. If your connections don’t know who you are or how you connected, why would they ever pass on a message to others? Why would they ever introduce you to one of their contacts? Your connections are the key to the second and third degree network, so make sure those connections are real.

#2 Strike the iron while it’s hot

You’ve met some interesting new people at a conference? You just ended a call with someone that you will probably do business with? You’ve been having a few discussions with someone online lately? First thing on the to do list – look them up on LinkedIn and send out an invitation (referencing how you connected if you think it’s appropriate). Now this is not a suggestion to quickly ‘run into people’, get their business card so you can say you ‘connected’ and invite them onto your network. Not at all, but if a real connection was made, you should solidify it ‘digitally’ and not wait to long before doing so either. After people accept I always download the vCard to my local address book, as it adds the person’s birthday to my calendar – always good to know.

#3 People change, how about your address book?

People change titles, jobs, employers, … and it’s important you know about this. Luckily networks like LinkedIn are amongst the first places for people to communicate changes like these, especially when they are related to the professional life. It’s not like you will go check out the LinkedIn homepage on a daily pages to track these changes, but LinkedIn add-ons like the Outlook Toolbar basically offer this kind of functionality for you. Every once in a while I will open up my LinkedIn Dashboard in Outlook and in there I can see all people that have made changes to their profile and I get the choice to update the contact info automatically in my local address book.

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#4 Network overlays – use it

Although my own rules for connecting with people on LinkedIn are not 100% the same as those on Facebook, and the reason for connecting on Blip or Flickr are different from other networks – there will always be an overlay. And sometimes you can benefit from that overlay, I’ll give you one example. Using programs such as Fonebook will compare your local Outlook address book with your connections on Facebook which will allow you to add additional data from Facebook (like the person’s photo for instance) to your existing Outlook contacts. I’m sure there are other examples of using the network overlays as well.

#5 Avoid spam

The biggest source of ‘spam’ these days seem to be your friends. Stronger connections will help avoiding much of it but still, sometimes it’s just powered by laziness. When you want to invite friends to a certain group on whatever network you most likely have 2 options – pick those friends that might be interested (takes time) or ‘select all’ (the faster solution). A lot of people tend to do the latter, knowing for a fact that you will ignore if needed but that is not the best option. Choose wisely amongst your network, there’s a limit to ignoring things as well.

That’s how I do it anyway, feel free to discuss.

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