How to Build a Real Network (Not a List of Strangers)

online network

In this digital age, we are obsessed with networks.  We want to keep in touch with our 3rd grade friends, so we check their Facebook profiles.  When we meet new people, we greedily gather their contact information and store them at LinkedIn.   Even our mothers love networks, if the sheer amount of forwarded spam email is any indication.  Information hording makes us feel like we are part of something bigger, that we have a network of support we can leverage at any time.

Unfortunately, that might not be true.  You could have 1,000 friends and not have even a mediocre network.  Like all relationships, you need to work at maintaining them in order to get anything from them.  If you decide to friend everyone you know and never talk to them, you don’t have a network.  You have a list of strangers.

Networks rely on real communication, the kind of bonds that keep us interested in each others’ lives.  It may seem like a daunting task, but you can engage in real communication every day with your network.  Doing so not only makes you part of the network, but builds relationships over time you can turn to in times of need.

Below are a few examples you can do every day to build your network.  Even devoting ten minutes a day can bring incredible results:

1. Answer Questions

The people in your network ask questions all the time, ranging from “Where can I buy organic ketchup?” to “How do I find jobs in the San Francisco area?” If you have relevant answers, you should reply.  People appreciate any help at all, even if they don’t end up taking your advice.  Answering questions also shows that you care about what other people (and aren’t self-absorbed about your own life).

2. Ask Questions

Too many people use status updates as a public “whine board” of all the things going wrong with their life.  Let’s face it: nobody likes a whiner.  On the flip side, most people do like to help others.  Change your problem into a solicitation for advice.  Transforming “I hate my boss!” into “How do I manage a difficult boss?” is the difference between pointless self-misery and a conversations that lead to solutions.

3. Send Personalized Messages

Your friends are not identical clones of each other.  When you communicate only through your status bar, though, you assume all of your friends like the same things equally.  Take a break from updating your status to share personalized messages.  Send your hard rocker friend a line about the new album you bought, or share a funny link with your college roommate that reminds you of freshman year.  These little acts of real communication do not go unnoticed and make for much more interesting, relevant reads for your friends.

4. Offer to Help

Just like you, your friends go through minor and major life changes all the time.  You might notice a friend going through a rough divorce or writing a tough cover letter.  Try to help in these situations.  You may just give advice or physically lend a hand.  Giving away a little of your time and knowledge goes an incredibly long way to building relationships.  In fact, I once got a job offer by sending a quick email to an acquaintance who needed advice on writing.

5. Link People Together

Even if you can’t help your friend, odds are, you know people who can.  If your friend needs a rock climbing coach and you just happen to know one, link them together.  A student from your alumni university may be looking into a career that your classmate pursued.  Linking people together who need each other not only strengthens their networks, but strengthens yours by building stronger professional people in your life.

The more real conversations you start, the more you will be surprised how building a network can help you grow.  Not only that, but you get to really know people in the process, which enriches your life much more than posting about what you had for lunch.

Photo by Luc Legay

10 thoughts on “How to Build a Real Network (Not a List of Strangers)”

  1. Very good little list here Deborah. I really like how you mention ‘nobody like a whiner’. Golly, there sure are enough of them online, especially with facebook. Just by changing our semantics a little bit we can give and solicit help, and also build those incredibly important treasures we call our ‘network’.

  2. You really done a great job of explaining how a good Socialite/Marketer should behave when building credibility and a genuine network of like minded people who share the same interests. I like how you talk about building relationships, This is important!

  3. Good post. Networking is all about communicating. A communication gap in any network renders the network useless. It’s high time people knew that the best way to build a network (build real rapport) with others is to maintain and nurture a good conversation with them. A good network is that which has good communication links. Thanks for the post.

    1. I’ve never heard of Path, but I’ll check it out. Limiting connections could be good for some people. I’ve found, though, even with large lists of contacts, I can keep up with what people are doing and keep up the conversation. It’s not really about maintaining a bunch of strong relationships; it’s about knowing how to maintain a bunch of weaker ones in a manner that’s relevant to them.

  4. Thanks so much for mentioning the whining thing! I love your sentence here: “Transforming ‘I hate my boss!’ into ‘How do I manage a difficult boss?’ is the difference between pointless self-misery and conversations that lead to solutions.”

    I honestly think people don’t realize sometimes the way their constant diet of “whine” on social-networking sites or even IRL affects people’s opinions of them over time. Consistent, unceasing whining without any (apparent) interest in possible solutions to their problem(s) helps convince me over time that this person is going to ultimately be dead weight as a colleague, friend, or social acquaintance. And it’s not at all that people should act fake or pretend to be “happy,” but that rather, exactly like you said, learning to understand our difficulties in terms of questions (“what can I do about this?”) or (“if there’s nothing I can actually do to change this, how can I modify my own responses or even remove myself if necessary in order to make the necessary positive changes for growth in my own life?”) is very, very empowering. Rather than impotently complaining about a situation of perceived powerlessness, turning all these challenges into questions turns us into agents of responsibility who can, over time, bring about the needed or wanted change in either the situation or ourselves.

    Thanks so much for this thought, Deborah~~I’ll be chewing on it all day! :)

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Cara. As you mentioned, it’s not about giving up complaining. Everyone needs an outlet. But if you’re stuck, you’re the only person who can get you “unstuck.”

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