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Strategies for Nurturing Your Professional Network and Professional Relationships

“It isn’t just what you know, and it isn’t just who you know. It’s actually who you know, who knows you, and what you do for a living.”
– Bob Burg (Author of the Go-Giver)

This guest article was written by Alpesh Shah, from Chai Wisdom.

Why Network?

Networking Connections PeopleAs discussed in a previous post regarding time management and Covey’s time management matrix, it’s not enough to just accomplish tasks – the tasks that we take on should be important. Many would agree that expanding and nurturing your professional network is a huge asset, however let’s look at the facts to ensure this is true.

I’ll explore one benefit of professional networking: how it affects employment options.

Acquiring Employment – Does Networking Provide an Edge?

A study conducted in 1974 reviewed how 282 men from varying socioeconomic backgrounds found their jobs. The researchers reported the following results:

  • 56% got their job through a personal connection
  • 18.8 % used formal means (i.e. headhunters, and ads)
  • 20% applied directly

The statistic that jumps out immediately is that 56% found their job through a personal connection. As this data shows, the people the workers knew (and the people who knew who they were) greatly influenced which jobs the men acquired. This leads to the question – what kind of personal connection? Relatives, family friends, remote acquaintances? Fortunately for us, the researchers dug deeper – and have the answer to that question.

Networking and Weight of Relationships

Shake Hands Handshake Meeting NetworkingInstinctively we might think that the connections workers used to acquire their jobs would would be through “strong” connections – people that they interacted with frequently. However, this was not the case – the researchers found that these personal connections were typically “weak ties”, with varying levels of contact broken down as follows:

  • 16.7% saw the contact “Often” (twice a week or more)
  • 55.6% saw the contact “Occasionally” (less than twice a week, but more than once a year)
  • 28% saw the contact “Rarely” (once a year or less)

Source: Mark Granovetter, Getting a Job Page 53

Practical Application – Nurturing My Own Personal and Professional Relationships

As mentioned above, 83.6% saw their contact less than twice a week, but many saw their contacts only occasionally. This meant I ccould improve my opportunities by nurturing my network even with infrequent meetings. For personal satisfaction I’d like to interact more often with many in my network, but the “Occasionally to Rarely” side of my network can be nurtured with fairly little effort.

By nurturing the relationships I have with my “weak ties,” different opportunities open up.

I believe in life it’s not enough to simply know how to do things: it’s important to act on that information and implement change. Here’s what I did after I read this study.

Contacting My “Weak Ties” – And Results

I contacted several of my friends that I rarely saw and offered to have coffee / tea with them.

  • I briefly met one of my friends, who then invited me to a Tweetup (people on Twtitter meeting up at a certain location). That in turn helped me meet 6 new people. 3 were running social media companies, 2 were looking to change directions and the last guy was a manager for a Sales Recruiting Company. This Tweetup was helpful for nurturing my relationship with my friend but even beyond t hat, several of my new contacts run their own events. Through their offers to attend future events, I will nurture my professional relationships with them, and perhaps meet even more people that I would probably never meet if I stayed in my comfort zone. In addition, my relationship with my original friend is stronger as a result of my reaching out to him

  • The second person I met up with introduced me to people from a whole different industry that I don’t normally associate with. That meeting didn’t turn out to bear any fruit directly, but my reaching out once again solidified my relationship – and led to an enjoyable experience meeting and learning from people in a new industry.

Applying These Strategies In Your Own Life

Messaging Via Social Networks

Networking Computer Social Networks ConnectionsSo – how does this apply to you and how can you apply this knowledge?

Everyone now is on several social networks. I can’t remember the last time I asked what someone’s e-mail was when I was meeting them for the first time. The question is always “ Are you on ____?” and the network may vary from Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, Twitter to Greenlight Community.

In my experience, the easiest and least invasive interaction that I used to initiate contact was through social networking, and in my case specifically – Facebook.

I simply look through my network, see who I haven’t talked to or seen in awhile and send them a message that goes something like this:

“Hey how’s it going? Haven’t talked in a while, was thinking that we should meet up for coffee or tea sometime this week or next week to catch up.”

Specific tips on Messaging via Social Networks:

  • Keep it brief. Short and straight to the point is the best way to open up communication.
  • Attend interesting events. Facebook shows you events people in your network are attending. Look for events that your friends are participating in, RSVP and meet up!
  • Send something interesting you found online. When you send a link, add some of your own thoughts to it. Don’t just send people a story, photo or video: explain why you felt it was relevant to them

Pinging

[reddit-me]

Some of you may be familiar with the term pinging from working on websites. Pinging is a technique used to check whether a webserver is available and responding to contact. The purpose of the message is simply to get a response, and for each machine to be aware the other is there.

Pinging is something I learned about a couple of years ago and has helped tremendously in nurturing my network, particularly with people I don’t interact with often in person. Most people only contact others in their network when they want something from them. This can lead to resentment, and understandably so – wouldn’t you prefer to stay in touch with someone who contacts you to provide value, versus someone who only contacts you only when they need something?

Pinging is simply reaching out to keep communication open, and providing value in your relationship.

There are so many different ways to ping people, from social networks to email. Here are some specific tips on the best way to utilize each of these mediums:

  • Calling and Texting – I call or text people that I want to know better in my network about once a week to see how they are doing. Note that there isn’t any ulterior motive – I care about how they are doing and how I might be able to help them in their life. With new contacts I usually contact them by text once a week and call once every two weeks to build a good relationship. Different people may desire contact more or less frequently
  • Sharing Items Via Google Reader – For my more tech savvy friends who have similar tastes and/or professions, I use Google reader and discuss different articles with them. Sharing information is always a good way to keep in touch with people. [Sid's note: I use Twitter and StumbleUpon in similar ways]
  • Email – I prefer not to write e-mails because those tend to be longer than a text and to me less personal than a phone call. Some people can be very protective of their inbox, while others are constantly overwhelmed and will lose your email in their digital pile of things to do. I would strongly recommend against forwarding jokes, large images and videos via email, unless you already have a strong relationship and know the person very well – you never know who you might offend.
  • Instant Messaging – Instant messaging can be welcome, or it can be very intrusive. I recommend using an asynchronous method of communication (such as email or messaging via a social network) before instant messaging.

Final Thoughts: Be Authentic

People Talking Communicating BalloonsIn the end, remember that relationships are built on trust. I never ping or reach out in order to selfishly take from people: I always reach out and meet up in person so we can enjoy each other’s company. The one thing I am thinking when I am pinging is always “How can I add value to this person’s life?

Be authentic, add value – and nurture your network now, so that they’ll want to help you when a mutually beneficial opportunity arises.

What do you think? What strategies do you use to nurture you personal and professional networks?

This guest article was written by Alpesh Shah, from Chai Wisdom.

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By Sid Savara
Published February 09th 2014
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