How to Network like a Human, not a Computer

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.

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