The process of networking to like-minded people for pleasure and profit, though timeless in concept, has, since the rise of information technology, altered dramatically in methods and potential.
This is especially true for those in the communications and public relations fields. The days of mandatory reading of the daily newspapers or bestseller lists to impress someone at a cocktail party, sharing the latest office gossip to bond with a source, or controlling your subordinates as you claw your way to the top are past.
We’ve entered a new era where shifting cultural values and improved technology enable you and your contacts to network in vastly improved, more focused, and more enjoyable ways.
The old way to network involved climbing a ladder while pushing others down or to the side for individual benefit. The past was about competition, pursuit of materialism and “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Networking was all about your position in the game and the number of degrees on your résumé or titles placed after your name. This process worked for some people, to be sure, but not for most. Thankfully, networking has evolved.
Today, as a communications professional, it’s important to recognize that being connected and well networked has personal and professional benefits. When thinking about the evolution of networking it’s important to set networking goals and objectives.
Do you want to improve your leads, identify new sources or grow your social media profile? Define your goals, create plan and consider how networking has evolved.
Transformational Not Transactional
If you remember one concept regarding the new way to network, remember this: networking should not be viewed as a series of transactions. In today’s model, networking is transformational or an inside game first. What I mean is that you first must identify any barriers (e.g. negative thinking, fear of public speaking) standing in your way from connecting and define your values, interests and core purpose. Once you’ve identified any barriers, you can work on changing or altering your path and process as needed. Once you’ve done this, it’s important to identify your passions, values and networking goals.
Reduced Degree of Separation Between Contacts
Technology has accelerated how we connect and reduced the degree of separation between people from six down to four degrees. Whether you are excited or discouraged by the bewildering array of social media choices, technology and social media can help improve your networking productivity.
Dick Costolo the CEO of Twitter said, “Twitter has eradicated the psychological status barriers that exist between us.” He told me, “The Oklahoma State fraternity guys aren’t going to call NBA star Kevin Durant on his cell phone and say, ‘Come play flag football with us.’
That’s not going to happen, but it did on Twitter. The president of Rwanda will respond to tweets, but you’d be hard pressed to go to the steps of the presidential palace and have a conversation with him. Twitter has changed how we get things done and how we connect with people, whether it’s a CEO, an investor, or a football player.” Consider this as you’re building your network for story leads, sources and more.
Give Give Get
The new way to network is also based on helping others. The phrase I’ve coined to help you remember this idea is “Give Give Get”; that is, put greater energy into giving than receiving. I believe the key to unlocking the hidden power of connections is helping others when you don’t expect anything in return.
A focus on giving can transform your emotional state, improve your relationships, build your happiness quotient, and teach you the importance of gratitude. If you put giving back and helping others at the center of your networking and relationship building, you are likely to have more impactful and stronger relationships, among other benefits.
What you will find is that the giving will come back to you tenfold. Living “Give Give Get” can be as easy as remembering that small actions can make a big difference or asking your contacts, “How can I help?” Think about the we not just the me when networking and you will have greater success.
Connections Increase Happiness
If the career implications aren’t enough to convince you, consider that connecting with others with similar values and passions can also increase your feelings of happiness in most cases.
An article in Scientific American titled “Your Brain on Facebook: Bigger Social Networks Expand the Size of Neural Networks” by Gary Stix noted, “Lots of ‘friends’ drive the growth of gray matter in areas linked to processing social information.”
James Fowler, a professor at UC San Diego, stated in an interview with NPR, “We find that people at the center of the social network tend to be happier. . . . We think the reason why is because those in the center are more susceptible to the waves of happiness that spread throughout the network.”
Dr. Allison Belger, a psychologist, co-owner of a gym and the author of The Power of Community: CrossFit and the Force of Human Connection, told me, “When we find a common ground or situations that break down socioeconomic or demographic barriers, everything else dissipates.”
She added, “There is something that happens in groups that can catapult people in their lives in a way that was not happening before. People have lost weight and gained confidence, shed poor relationships, changed their eating habits, and even become more social. Many studies show that social connections and friendships do something for our bodies.
There is even research demonstrating that people who are isolated fare more poorly with regard to disease, poverty, and illness than people who are socially integrated. If you get connected, you can live more healthfully and longer. It doesn’t have to be about CrossFit; it can be any program or endeavor that fosters community or a shared experience with commitment, discipline, or sacrifice and makes us need each other and learn in a different way.”
Whether you’re looking to improve your connecting skills or find new story leads, remember, building and strengthening your network will help you improve your happiness, productivity, and true net worth. In this global, networked economy, don’t let your social capital lie dormant. Reinvest it! Your Network Is Your Net Worth.
Porter Gale, former VP of marketing at Virgin America, is the author of Your Network Is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success and Happiness in the Digital Age.