Networking for professional profit used to be the province of salespeople and politicians; now the web has made us all into schmoozers. Services like LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook, and Plaxo Pulse make expanding your professional and social network as easy as spamming your Gmail contact list with […]

handshakeNetworking for professional profit used to be the province of salespeople and politicians; now the web has made us all into schmoozers. Services like LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook, and Plaxo Pulse make expanding your professional and social network as easy as spamming your Gmail contact list with invites.

But even if it’s easier than ever to show the world just how many people you know, it’s no simple task to network in a way that’s at the same time sincere and effective. How do you build relationships online that are professionally useful but still human and genuine?

Last week, bloggers Shannon Clark and Chris Brogan shared their networking tips, which begin to answer the question of how to be human in your networking, even if sometimes you use a computer to do it.

Clark suggests that “networking is about giving and listening” not quid pro quo:

Frequently people’s reaction when you do something for them is to try to “pay you back”. There is a strong sense that networking is some form of accounts – that you do favors and then collect on them, that people “owe you”.

Please, break yourself of this instinct. Not the part of it which inspires you to help others, but the part which tries to keep accounts, which tries to weigh whether someone can help you before you help them.

Brogan believes it’s important to share a part of yourself:

Lots of people hold back. Sometimes, they’ve had bad past experiences. Other times, they just think that they should be more professional. It’s a sure thing that sharing a part of yourself to your community will strengthen and deepen your connection to people there. Be brave.

He also suggests making introductions for no reason other than you think two people might enjoy each other.

When you’re sitting at your laptop, you might forget that those are people out there on the Internet. LinkedIn may be the worst offender in this regard, focusing almost entirely on a what-can-you-do-for-me view of the world with a prominent display of how many friends-of-friends you have. Lacking truly social features, it can push users towards insincere introduction and connection.

Given how easy it is to fall into a “favor for a favor” approach to professional networking, to count contacts instead of cultivating them, or to ignore other people’s social selves, maybe Twitter and Facebook offer just what’s needed. Combine a little socializing on those platforms with some attention to relationship building of the sort Clark and Brogan suggest and maybe you’ve got a way to network like a human.

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. Chris Brogan… Monday, August 6, 2007

    Long time reader, first time linked. Yay! Thanks for pointing to my post on social networks.

    My biggest point is just that businesses are chock full of humans. Older generations have had a status quo of what “professionalism” means beaten into them. It still exists heavily outside the WWD world lots of your readers (me!) live in. But I believe, with all my heart (and my future potential employability) that people love being treated like people

    Thanks for the story, Anne.

  2. shannonclark Monday, August 6, 2007


    Thanks for the link as well – glad that people are reading and I hope paying attention – both those who are building the applications and the millions of us using them. Chris’ advice is really good – sharing yourself sets the tone, gives people permission to also share.



  3. Anne Zelenka Monday, August 6, 2007

    My pleasure — I was really excited to find both you guys discussing this topic last week. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

    “people love being treated like people”: I totally agree. And what’s so cool about many of the online services available now is that they allow us to be full people, not just buyers or readers or potential employees.

  4. This is such a timely series! There are so many networking sites out there that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of them. It’s also tempting to react mechanically and without thinking. Your post helps put networking in the right perspective.

  5. Anthony Russo Monday, August 6, 2007

    I see the big “favor game” on LinkedIn all the time. I just like to answer questions though. A lot of them do turn into plugs for my company because I come across someone that honestly can use my service, but the questions I enjoy answering the most are from the Ethics and Management categories and really feel like I’m talking with someone or helping someone out.

  6. GigaOM Web 2.0 Primer, Un-Network & Worldwide Biggies « Monday, August 6, 2007

    [...] How to network like a human, not a Computer? Continue Reading. [...]

  7. Give away a lot, be generous with what you know. This is a very good way to meet people and become a ‘compulsory reference’ in a given topic. The most you give, the most people want to work with you…and even pay you for doing so.

  8. you shy devil you » How to Network like a Human, not a Computer Monday, August 6, 2007

    [...] How to Network like a Human, not a Computer [...]

  9. Lori Richardson Monday, August 6, 2007

    Great insights! Building relationships is like planting seeds to grow a garden of people who know you, trust you, and ultimately, when they really understand the value that you bring to the table WILL refer you.

    Giver’s Gain is a term that was coined some time ago in “in-person” networking circles – the idea that just by thinking about others’ needs and going out of your way to respond with ideas and support creates amazing loyalty and trust, whether virtual or in person.

    Ultimately, it becomes fun, yes FUN, to make connections because if you have an abundant mindset and some good connections, the possibilities are endless.

    Lori Richardson

  10. I liked this. It was great info for all kinds of businesses even small ones like mine. Little personal touch goes a long way. Thanks

Comments have been disabled for this post