These days, the word “networking” gets a pretty bad rap.
The term essentially pertains to expanding your web of friends and acquaintances, generally with the goal of getting ahead in one’s chosen field or business. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, and we can even argue that it’s downright necessary to put yourself out there, but probably not at the mercenary level it’s often being done at these days.
It also doesn’t help that “networking,” at least in the Philippines, is now synonymous with Ponzi schemes and multi-level marketing companies that literally enable, encourage, and require participants to make money off people they bring in to the “business,” so to speak. *shudder*
Still, we all know that it takes a village to develop a career, trade, or enterprise, so how do we go about making meaningful connections in an age where an increasing number of relationships and social interactions have come to feel transactional?
How Community Building Differs From Networking As We Know It
The first step is to change your mindset. If it helps, focus more on building a community rather than a network.
What’s the difference, you ask? With traditional networking, you may picture shaking hands with someone, handing over your business card, and pitching yourself, your ideas, or your business, all with the expectation of getting a new job, investment, or client from the gesture.
Community-building, on the other hand, flips this model on its head. Rather than seeking people who can do something for you, it entails looking for those you can prove useful to.
Building Communities 101 (AKA How to Network Properly)
But hang on, how would doing things for other people help you? The answer lies in a little something called goodwill.
You see, while community-building essentially has giving others a leg-up at its core, it also espouses a value exchange. You commit to building the relationship or the connection so that when the time comes, the goodwill you’ve generated among the people you’ve given value to will either open doors or break down walls for you, so to speak.
Now, how do you go about this? Here are some guidelines that may come in handy:
1. Keep your ear to the ground.
Got LinkedIn? On a lot of specialized Facebook groups? These could help you sound out who might have a need for your skill set or connections.
For instance, if you see one of your acquaintances on Facebook looking for a graphic designer and you happen to know a few, feel free to tag them on the post. You can also try to send them a direct inquiry or a private message proffering your services.
Even if they might not end up taking your offer, the gesture would put you on their radar and they’ll remember your willingness to help.
2. Attend the right events.
Obviously, you can’t build a community if you don’t really know anyone, and a good way to remedy that is by attending various events.
With all of the seminars, conventions, and fora out there, however, you’re bound to come across crowds that are probably more interested in the buffet than in listening to what the speaker has to say.
What you can do to ensure the quality of your interactions is to check out the guest list beforehand, if you can. (Facebook events, for instance, generally show which individuals are interested and/or are attending such.) Should you see anyone on the list whom you’d like to speak to, learn from, or offer assistance to, that’s at least one good reason to attend as well.
3. Use social media properly.
While trolls and fake news currently abound on just about any platform, social media still provides great opportunities for meeting people who share your interests, values, and goals.
Let’s say you come across people whose viral posts strike a chord. How do you enter their consciousness? Certainly not by barging onto their posts, inbox, or wall shouting about yourself, of course.
Rather, pay attention to their message, make meaningful comments demonstrating your curiosity (e.g., “That was an interesting opinion. I used to think otherwise, but now believe differently. Did you always feel the same way about this issue?”), and build a strong, gradual connection over time.
4. Make an effort to meet people face to face.
Don’t mistake your online metrics for genuine connectedness.
While we’ve established that technology can be a stepping stone towards meeting people, things shouldn’t stop there. If you’ve established a blog or a social media group, for instance, and already have quite a sizeable following, it might be a good idea to host events where everyone gets to mingle.
If you’re more of a lone worker, you can also try inviting people you’ve always wanted to work with to share a co-working space so you can regularly share ideas and help solve each other’s problems.
5. Be generous.
Sharing your time, expertise, and ideas with others is crucial to cultivating a community.
Making introductions, for example, is a classic move to provide value to someone, regardless of wherever you might be in your career. (Do remember to ask both parties for their permission first before making the connection, and avoid asking for anything in return when you do so.)
Once you establish a reputation for connecting and supporting others, your community will be more willing to trust you and offer you assistance in turn.
6. Practice gratitude.
How about if other people do you a favor? Show gratitude.
You can do that by sending them a simple, heartfelt message thanking them for their help or support, remind them of your readiness to return the favor, and of course, actually doing that when the opportunity presents itself.
What goes around, comes around, and many a grateful heart is what keeps a lot of communities thriving.
As you can see, there really is some truth to the adage, “Your net worth is your network.” Again, the point is not necessarily to have as many VIP’s and heavy hitters on your speed dial, but to cultivate a fellowship among like-minded individuals who are both able and willing to help each other achieve their goals.
Belonging to such a community gives you access not only to expertise and insight in your chosen sector, but also to a support system that keeps you focused and, perhaps most importantly, keeps you smiling.