The weapon is a mighty force. The most powerful and absolute in your universe. With one exception. One… slight… imperfection. The imperfection every weapon has. Its user.
— Weaponer of Qward to Sinestro while handing him the yellow ring battery
As creepily as this sequence was put in animation, the lines were beautiful — though delivered in quite an irritating manner.
Look through the pages of history, and you will find countless examples of tools that had the capacity of bringing great good doing unspeakable harms — purely because of who it was who had the power to use them.
Sadly, networking is one such tool, and the more I see around, the more I find it being both misconstrued in its meaning and misused in its execution.
I think a lot of the current problem started with powerful quotes like:
Your network is your net worth.
There is another one by author and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn (though he is frequently misquoted on this one).
You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
Both are quite powerful, and as a result people have been on a ‘networking’ frenzy. I have more than 2,500 connections on LinkedIn, despite the fact that (a) I send maybe 8–10 connection requests in a year, (b) I try to sanitise my connection list once/twice a year or so.
To put that number in perspective, I have less than 1,000 friends on Facebook (and even that number is way higher than what it should be). I don’t know most of my LinkedIn connections, I don’t hear from most of them after the first sales pitch they make as soon as I accept their request to connect. This whole behavior can not be described as anything other than spam — although I do suspect it would be more time consuming and effort-sucking than the traditional spamming techniques, so I fail to see the benefit.
This is what’s wrong.
If I send out connection requests to every single CEO at Fortune 500 companies, maybe around 10% of them would be kind enough to accept the request. But how does that help me? Having them in my connection list makes my profile shiny? It elevates my professional status? How exactly does it help me?
This is a TIME magazine cover that has been seen at as many as 5 of Donald Trump’s golf clubs. What is interesting is the fact that it’s fake.
Given the personality traits Mr. Trump has displayed, this doesn’t surprise or shock me. I could claim that I am a dear friend of Mr X, who is the CEO of a global conglomerate, just because he is in my LinkedIn network. But just like with Mr. Trump, the truth will out.
And even if it doesn’t, as I asked earlier, what value does it add?
HOW SHOULD YOU NETWORK ON LINKEDIN?
Sure. Send out connection request to people in your industry. It is a good thing to connect with domain experts and gain from their experience and expertise on the subject matter. But be very clear — first to yourself, and then to them — in why you are looking to connect with them.
Lets say you have just started an e-commerce business, it would make sense that you want to get insights and understand the nuances of supply chain, payment gateways, inventory management, order fulfilment and countless other things. Seems logical to connect with people who have encountered and successfully handled such problems. So do send out requests, but before you do, keep few small points in mind:
- Don’t expect them to tutor you.
They are not there to teach you tricks of the trade. If you expect them to give you a “Multivendor Marketplace 101” crash-course, you are preparing yourself for disappointment. More importantly, it is a waste of anyone’s time when you can get the very basics on some quick google searches.
Takeaway: Research your field well. Be prepared to have a meaningful dialogue.
- Value their time.
Be respectful of the value of the other person’s time, irrespective of where they currently are on the foodchain of organisational hierarchy. Keep your questions crisp, clear and concise.
Takeaway: Don’t be vague. If you can not make the other person understand what you want in 2 sentences or less, you are not ready for the dialogue.
- Examples always help.
Follow this template — “This is what I am trying to do and why — — this is the challenge I am encountering — — I recall your company had a similar problem x months back. Would love to pick your brain on this via email or over a cool pint after work. :-)”
Takeaway: Show them that you are well aware of why you are approaching them and not anyone else.
I follow some simple rules. Feel free to use them, or craft your own.
- Don’t ignore requests.
Remember, you do seek help yourself from time to time. If you can’t help, you are being unfair in expecting help when you need it.
Takeaway: Be generous. Don’t be a snob. Karma does exist, and even if it didn’t, 80% of the ‘legitimate’ requests you will receive would be to put X in touch with Y. Takes hardly 10 seconds of your time.
- Don’t wait for the other person to ask for help.
It doesn’t matter who I connect with, I always ask them if there is any way in which I can help them, any problem I can help them solve, or at least easen up. Offer to help. Eases the tension and you get to direct the conversation in a fruitful direction.
(Remember when I said ‘don’t be vague’. This way you can ensure that the person reaching out to you follows that as well.)
Takeaway: Be proactive in helping people out — with no strings attached, zero expectations.
- If you see a problem, point it out. If you see something good, appreciate it.
Take a min out to know about the person who you are connecting with. What does he do, where does he work, what does the business do. How else are you going to know what kind of help he needs?
I received a linkedin request last night after I made an account — using linkedin — for a browser extension, zest.is. The request was from their CMO/co-founder. I accepted the request and sent a mail back.
In all fairness, that is a horrible horrible mail. (And in my defence, it was 2 in the morning and I was half asleep.)
Takeaway: There is always something to talk about, something to suggest an improvement on, something to appreciate and applaud. Take that opportunity. Remember, just like you, the other person would have worked his ass off to make something that you did admire. Take a second to acknowledge that effort.
That’s it. No secret sauce. Just simple tips. Be more human, be genuine and connect for the right reasons.
The size of your LinkedIn network doesn’t matter. The size and impact of your conversations and actions do. That’s real networking.