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Monday, August 29, 2005

Why Social Networks Don't Work!

Why Social Networks Don't Work! (Or... The Linked In Manifesto)
by: Jim Stroud
(C) 2005 Jim Stroud

Unless you are new to the internet or, are a novice to its mysteries, you are no doubt familiar with social networks. For the uninitiated, social networks are online communities where people meet and exchange business information with one another. In the most perfect of scenarios, someone you meet in a social network will connect you to one of their trusted contacts and business will be consummated. There are several such networks in operation (among them Ecademy, Spoke and Ryze), but the most popular is Linked In of which I am an avid subscriber. To be fair, I have met quite a few people with Linked In and can sing some of its praises. However, there is a downside to using social networks of any kind. I suspect that it is this singular reason why many forsake social networks and dismiss them as a fad of the age. What is the leading detriment of social networks? Ironically, the issue is that many people do not know how to network offline and those habits are simply transferred to the online arenas of social networks.

As a member of Linked In, my profile is open for public review. As I have been fortunate enough to work with certain companies, I am often approached for leads into organizations I have been affiliated with. This results in a near avalanche of emails of which I offer no complaint. As I use Linked In as a recruiting vehicle (in addition to expanding my network), It is simply par for the course. My concern is the tone of the inquiries of which I will paraphrase, "Gimme, gimme, gimme and give it to me now." Initially, I thought such encounters would prove only a minor annoyance. Unfortunately, I find myself battling a growing disdain for those who do not grasp the concept of quid pro quo nor, the fleeting art of courtship. If you are a fairly connected person with a "golden rolodex" of leads, why should I expect you to introduce your more coveted contacts to me upon request? Furthermore, how much assistance should I expect you to give a perfect stranger that you have only met virtually? Would it be illogical to assume that you are not so willing to risk your reputation with a trusted ally, by recommending an introduction to someone you barely know? I would not think it illogical, but such seems to be the faith of several who have reached out via social networks. The end result? Hundreds (or is it thousands?) of requests go unanswered or flatly refused, leaving the disillusioned to claim the ineffectiveness of social networks. This also has a rebounding effect on those proficient in networking who wonder how much longer they will continue to suffer countless requests made by virtual hands outstretched for whatever they can glean from their solicitations.

"The most annoying requests are those made by people who have not read my profile, but want to connect only for the sake of making a connection to their list, or selling a product said Steve Eisenberg, an E-Business professional and a faithful user of Linked In.

It is my good fortune however, to report that there is a solution that benefits all concerned. I have crafted a guideline of conduct for social networks and would share it with you now, dear reader. I call it "The Linked In Manifesto" after my favorite social networking service. (Despite the actions of some, Linked In still remains on my short list of necessary web sites.) Please consider the following suggestions mandatory when you next decide to engage someone via a social network.

1. When approaching someone for the first time, do not ask for anything! Instead, offer a gift to encourage them to correspond with you. I would suggest that your offering be presented in one of three ways.

OFFER AN IDEA: Consider the profile of the person you want to connect to and imagine a way to make their business life easier; then share it with them. For example, "I notice from your profile that you are a veterinarian with a focus on Cats. I checked and the domains CatDoctor.com and PurrfectPractitioner.com are not taken. Just a thought, but maybe you should consider snapping these up. If you would like to discuss Veterinarian Science or Cats in general, drop me an email."

OFFER INFORMATION: Perhaps you could visit an online news source, browse stories and share insight into an event that would prove of interest to your intended connection. For example, “I read in the paper that Company X is moving into VOIP and opening a center in Tacoma. Isn't that in your backyard? As a Telecom professional, I hear about such things all the time and have no problem sharing the more interesting gossip. If interested, drop me an email.

OFFER INTRODUCTIONS: Exclusivity is always an attention grabber. For example, I noticed from your profile that you own a firm that designs video games. My son works for Atari and when he is not developing games, he and his co-workers barricade my basement and play games until the beer runs out. My son is happily employed, but I can not speak for his pals. If you like, I could introduce you to them. Just let me know..."

2. Do not attempt to connect with someone unless you plan on getting to know them. In other words, maintain honorable intentions by inviting them to call you or meet with you for coffee at Starbucks. All too often, social networkers seek out what they can achieve at the moment and this is counter-intuitive to the nature of networking. Try as you might to put a face with the name, learn their hobbies and future endeavors and give them a chance to learn you and find commonality. If at all possible, ferret out a non-business activity that you can bond over (Sports, TV Shows, Et Cetera.) Successful, long-term business comes from trust and trust takes time to develop, yet it is always worth it.

3. Stay in touch with online contacts and advise them of your preferences should other social networkers approach them about contacting you. (For example, my department is not hiring. However, if you come across someone out of Company X, I will gladly chat with them.) In the virtual world, it is easy to lose tracks of those you were once so close to. Set a day on your calendar to speak to or visit with, those connected to you and reacquaint yourself with them. Find new reasons to stay in touch and seek out ways that you can help enrich their lives professionally and socially. (It goes without saying that you should take note of your contacts preferences as well.)

4. Jealously guard your connected list by being very selective of the invitations you accept. (After all, we are all measured by the company we keep and our associations testify of our character more loudly than our denials.) When refusing a connection however, attempt to offer help in some way. For example, "Thank you for requesting a connection to me on Linked In. May I ask why you chose to connect with me? In the event that I am unable to assist you, I am more than happy to refer you to another or offer any advice I can muster. Please advise..."

In conclusion, the best advice I can give has already been given. In the book "The Heart Of Networking" by Ricky Steele, the consummate networker Ricky Steele said that "Networking is a thinking person's game." Strategy plays a huge part in networking offline and the rules apply online as well. A social network is not a machine where you insert a quarter and instant business rolls out like a gumball. Rather, it is an opportunity, a chance to present yourself to those you may one day recruit. It is also a chance to be ignored. Social networks work well for those who know how to come bearing gifts, pursue long term relationships and value the contacts they already developed. If you have considered joining a social network but do not have the time to cultivate the encounters that come from it, save your time, talent and energy. Social networks don't work.

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