When we talk about building your network, it’s really about building a community of support. It isn’t about working the room, schmoozing, or collecting business cards. In fact, it doesn’t even have to take place at a big cocktail party or conference.
Why Networking Matters
These days, having a network of contacts, connections and people to partner with is more important than ever. With greater ease of access to information, it’s our relationships that help us differentiate ourselves. In fact, without a good network, nowadays it’s hard to find a job, do that job well, and position ourselves to advance to the next level.
When you build your community and broaden your network, you gain access to a new well of knowledge, experience and contacts. And each of those people in your community has their own network that becomes your extended network, which you can access and activate as needed. And it’s reciprocal, so you’re also offering your network the same benefits.
How To Go About Networking
For many people, the whole idea of networking feels icky and overwhelming. Plus, who has spare time to devote to something that doesn’t have a clear payoff in the near term? Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Here, 10 strategies to be more successful at networking.
Frame Networking In a Positive Way
You’ll have the most success if you think about it as building a community of support. Whenever you think of an activity as something to dread, you may put it off or do it badly, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead treat it as an experiment, look at the benefits; then it all becomes more easeful.
Recognize that Networking Is an Investment
It’s like building the foundation for your house. You’re building relationships that are the foundation for your career. It’s an investment that may yield returns over a longer period, and maybe even through another part of the network. The good thing is, these relationships are a portable asset that travels with you no matter where you go. That portability means it’s never a wasted effort, and also serves as a useful reminder to avoid taking a transnational approach, such as expecting immediate, on-the-spot results.
Be Clear About Your Purpose
Reminding yourself of why you’re building this community will help you to take action, and to take actions that make sense. For example, your “why” will guide the kinds of invitations you accept and the people you choose to approach given your limited time. And every once in a while, say yes to something you normally wouldn’t say yes to. That keeps things fresh while also testing whether your criteria are still appropriate.
So what is your purpose? Is it about building your network for the job you’re in? To be in the flow of future opportunities? To learn and gain knowledge in a particular area or aspect? To find business partners?
All of these are valid goals, and you can have more than one. The important thing is to identify what those goals are so that you can be open to the opportunities that come your way.
Do It Your Own Way
If big events aren’t your thing, don’t sweat it. You can choose to network in one-on-one mode or in small groups instead. Nobody said you have to go to the massive “meat market” events. Invite someone for a coffee, form a running group, come up with the settings that work best for you.
For my introverted client, his solution is to start setting up more targeted coffee meetings, whether one-to-one or in a small group, and to attend only the absolutely necessary big events. And when he wants to broaden his circle, he’ll ask for advice on whether there’s anyone else he should be talking to on the subject.
Show Up and Set a Goal
When you find that you have to be in a large group setting, set a goal and let yourself off the hook once you achieve it. For example, if you’re shy, you could set the goal of talking to someone within 30 seconds of entering the room, which will break the ice. Or decide that you will introduce yourself to 3 people and find out something intriguing about them. Who knows, you might even end up enjoying it and outperforming your own expectations.
Another strategy when you’re uncomfortable going it alone at a big reception is to agree to go with someone else.
Experts have discovered that if you approach a group of people on your own, they were unlikely to let him into the conversation. But if you are accompanied by another person, then both would be welcomed into the group. Perhaps this has to do with the concept of social proof– that if you’re in a pair, then at least someone finds you acceptable. In any case, we teamed up that evening and it worked like a charm.
Network From Wherever You Are
Sometimes it doesn’t take extra time from your day to network if you’re sitting next to someone in a conference, on a flight, at a neighbor’s barbecue, or in a WeWork space. When you see someone new or someone who you would like to get to know in your normal course of life, start a conversation. Introduce yourself. Be interested in learning about them. Make use of your daily travels to build your network – there’s the added benefit of being easy to keep in contact if you find there’s a potential connection. Don't forget to travel with your business cards.
Come Up With a Set of Stock Phrases
When you have a set of ways to open a conversation it can be less daunting to participate actively in larger settings. Why not use them as an opportunity to try out different ways to talk about what you do? It's invaluable to see how your approach “lands” with people.
For example, my client also set himself the task of coming up with a list of different descriptors for what he does. He referred to them as “little elevator speeches” that he can use when he goes to networking events.
Once you get beyond the first meeting, and if you decide it’s worth keeping in touch, then be willing to give before you take. I like to follow up with a note and an article or some other thoughtful offer that builds on what we talked about. For example, if we’ve spoken about a common interest in leadership, I might send my favorite article as a follow up, or make them aware of an interesting program on the subject. Or better yet, find a way to help them achieve their goals by making an introduction to someone else who can help them.
But Then, Do Ask
Building your community is a two-way street. By making an ask now and then, it can strengthen the relationship. Plus, that way, both sides can feel they’ve contributed. For example, some of my mentees have expressed concern that they are getting all the value without contributing, and always feel better when I ask them for some insights on what their fellow Millennials are thinking.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that while it is easy to get overwhelmed, you have to start somewhere. The important thing is to get going, and keep going. It’s better to start small and keep it up rather than go in bursts that you can’t maintain.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.