Facets of Greatness - Networking - Maximizing Mutual Benefit

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Networking is about designing, structuring, building and maintaining your social networking by establishing new connections. Communication – and signaling, to some extent – is about leveraging your network. Or that of your connections or organization.

Meatspace Networking

… And honestly, networking might be one of my biggest weaknesses, but I haven’t had way too much practice, as I can’t drive. And when I have worked on a startup project, I’ve regrettably worked alone, spending the majority of my time programming.

Your Contact List is Gold

The contact list you build is one of your most valuable assets. This is one reason that I keep my Facebook friends private, even though almost everything else I’ve done on that site has been private. In sales, depending on agreements with your employer, it could be unethical to try to carry your contact list to leverage them at your next job. So there’s a ton of value there. It doesn’t matter what your profit margins are if you don’t have customers.

Mutually Beneficial Connections

In order to further your relationship with customers, or even friends, you need to get to know them. You have to develop a rapport with a connection to develop comfort and trust, then you have to the chance to understand their needs and how you fit together. No one wants to buy something they find out they didn’t really need, so even if you managed to sell someone in that case, you didn’t provide long-term value, so you’re not likely to have a repeat customer.

It’s terrible to think of people as walking ATM’s, and if you treat them like that, you’re not going far. Yet, when you develop connection where value flows in both directions, then the relationship is mutually beneficial and that’s how life works. It works in business and in friendship. It’s sad, very few people would say they want to be in a one-sided friendship, where one party receives all the value. Anyone who would want that likely doesn’t have great self-esteem.

Identifying Valuable Channels

So the idea is to find people who share interests or needs. A great trick to this is find where people talk about the thing you’re interested in. It could be a forum, an online class, a widely known twitter hashtag that seems to consistently spark discussions, or a meetup group. You can even spark random conversations with complete strangers. Some of these channels are going to provide more value than others and many of them will be outright time sinks. You have to find the ones that offer the most bang for you buck. High bandwidth, personal communication channels are the best, since you grab that person’s attention and you can read facial cues to gauge interest.

As widely connected as social media is, I’ve found that it’s a huge time sync, unless you’re a “power user” … I’m a software developer and I suck at social media. I think “power user” means you can afford to buy influence from bots or something. I donno. IMO, buying influence is cheap. In my personal experience, facebook promotion never worked for me. I spent like $200 on that shit for my personal account (sorry facebook) just to see what would happen and it was basically like a broken arcade machine. Regardless, for me, social media is highly distracting and I tend to kill any discussion I post on. Go figure. It could be a facebook thread with 100 comments, but I post on it? It’s dead in the water…. interesting, n’est-ce pas?

The Elevator Speech

Anyways, once you’ve identified the channels, you can engage other people. You can use the elevator pitch to introduce yourself, which I picked up in Toastmasters. Their rewarding program connects you with experienced public speaking mentors with, if you’re like me and need a ton of work here. You’ll find these mentors to be influential leaders in your local community, valuable connections with constructive advice.

Toastmasters taught me about the elevator speech, which is a short 30 or 60 second speech that you imbue with your own style to introduce yourself quickly and confidently. You don’t want a mechanical cookie cutter introduction for yourself, but the more you practice the easier it becomes. You can build these quick elevator speeches for other topics or cater them to a specific audience. You’re going to need something short, but flexible, that offers plenty of interest points for the other party to grasp onto. Usually, you’ll hit a common interest. If not, you’ll find that many other people will begin talking about themselves with little encouragement. Honestly, that’s best because you don’t have to expend much effort at first and there’s plenty value there if you’re a good listener. However, if you’re like me, then you don’t like talking about yourself much … even though it’s just about all I can talk about. So I just stay quiet mostly. Again, it’s a “protracted isolation” thing.

Identifying High Value Connections

Regardless, you’ll find that the higher value connections out there usually don’t want to share as much. Or they are more difficult to approach. You can tell by observing the way people act – and there are plenty of people out there who want to act like this, but don’t pull it off right because it doesn’t come from the heart. When people act less approachable out of conscious motivation to do so, it will usually become apparent after you talk to them for a minute. You have to listen to the space between their words. They might be a true high-value person or they might just be faking it ‘til they make it. It’s OK, all of the best out there did it LOL. Also, since these people are constantly approached by others, they become bored easily and they’ve experienced all the games. That’s yet another reason to be authentic.

You’ll need to think more about what you’re trying to get out of networking. Are you looking to meet new customers? Or are you looking for an investor or business partner? There are different tactics to match various situations.

Vetting New Connections

I’ve noticed that some people seem to be very good at quickly vetting the experience level of other people. Versitility here is invaluable for interviewing, but also for networking. Almost anyone will want to convince you that they are better than they actually are at some skill, so you need to be able to quickly test someone. You can do this with ease if you are knowledgable in that field, but what if you aren’t? There are some general tactics for flushing out someone’s BS, but they aren’t guaranteed to work.

If you’re considering getting into a working or personal relationship with someone, then you’re going to want to make some assertions about their character. There are right and wrong ways to probe someone on experience level or skills. It’s kind of like a logic paradox, where if you ask just the right question, it doesn’t matter if the guy is telling the truth or lying, you’ll get the right answer. Honestly, I don’t know how they figure this shit out. But the people who make great managers are always proficient with this. I would know, I’ve been through a ton of interviews.

Also, just because someone isn’t highly experienced at the time doesn’t mean they’re not a valuable connection. Is this person young and ambitious and on their way up? They’ll probably remember who connected with them early on and helped them out.

These questions and topics to sound someone out will vary, depending on the industry, topic, skill, experience level, etc. There are several command line Linux utilities that you can ask about. If someone has solved certain problems, like compiling the Linux kernel, then they’ll know about them. They’ll be able to describe how they’ve used those utilities in the past. This is much more effective than: have you ever compiled the Linux kernel, yes or no?

As you progress in your career, you’ll develop more expansive knowledge and become more qualified to interview on a wider variety of topics. You’ll pick up more subtle cues that indicate trustworthiness and combined with the right information about experience, you can easily find the distinguished applicants. Or that’s what I hope. I don’t have any experience with interviewing, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, since I’m worried my weaker social skills will hurt my ability to form a strong early team, unless I hire someone with an MBA or equivalent experience. Or a lawyer. They’re good at sifting through BS. And handy for business law, too.

Another way to vet people is to leverage an existing connection – someone you know to be trustworthy. Arrange a meeting or facilitate a connection between these two people and see what your connection thinks. It’s best to steer away from introducing these people for the obstensible purpose of learning more about someone’s proficiency, definitely for the person you’re sounding out. And it works best if you can arrange it so that neither party knows the purpose. Yes, that can reduce the effectiveness, if one person doesn’t know they’re supposed to informally vet this person. You can always hint or make it known later on.

General rule of thumb: line things up so you can hit two birds with one stone. Or five birds. More is better here. And don’t make it known why you threw the rock. Or that it was even you.

Practicing Interpersonal Techniques

If you find yourself lacking in some of the techniques for execution of networking, then there are plenty of ways to practice. The first idea is to get as much practice as possible. It doesn’t help anyone to be isolated. How many times am I going to say isolated in this series of articles? Can I ask a psychologist whether or not it’s good for someone who has Asperger’s and is socially inept to be placed within a literal invisible fence? … Does it fucking seem like I would like to remain disconnected from the world? My point is that, while I’m not good at this stuff and even though I need a ton of practice, I obviously know the things I need to know to improve at least someone. Yet, there seems to be a problem. I can’t ever drive during daytime hours. Ever talk to someone who works late night shifts? Is it easy for them to make new friends? I wonder why.

… Moving on.

Gamifying Networking

So another good idea to improve your networking skills is to find ways to gamify it. You can do it by yourself or with a friend!! Basically, you’re just setting small goals that you keep in mind for the duration of some networking event. Set an expectation like: get ten business cards or meet ten new people. You can gauge your progress over longer periods of time if you want, but the point is to motivate yourself to make more connections at an event or increase the quality of the connections formed. The best sales guys (as well as the better friends) are going to brainstorm ways of talking to specific connections hours, days or weeks before an event. If you spend the time thinking about how you’re going to talk to someone specific in mind or what you’re going to talk about, it should go more smoothly when it happens. This is because you’ve spent that extra time thinking about that person, their life, their interests, etc.

You could even challenge yourself by competing with other people in your sales department or amoung your friends. You can suggest an informal competition to find the most interesting person or find the best reaction to a terrible joke. Or find a person who owns X car. Or has done A, B, and C.

Networking in 19th Century America

We’re incredibly lucky to have social media. Thinking back to the 19th century economy, it amazes me to think back to previous centuries before the internet and phone systems. I find myself pondering what it would be like to remain a step ahead of your competition at that time. If you owned a furniture store, you would spend an exorbitant amount of time checking prices and quality of products from wholesalers and manufacturers. You would build a network of local manufacturers and spend time cultivating those relationships.

How much of your time would you spend doing that? How would you stay ahead of your competitors? What systems & processes would you enact to ensure you were capable of collecting the best information on furniture? How would you determine what is worth manufacturing locally and what is more profitable elsewhere? How would you stay in contact with previous colleagues?

It seems that before the advent of instantaneous communication that business – and especially retail, manufacture and distribution – was all in who you knew and how you could leverage your social network in order to maximize its benefits. This was a time when doing so would be costly in terms of time and energy. Because of the increased difficulty, the ability to do so would be very profitable. Thus, in previous centuries, efficiently receiving information was a critical factor in determining success for those fortunate enough to own businesses in that time.

Fortunately, information distribution is no longer constrained by the limits of space and is beginning to transcend time. This presents a different kind of challenge, but it means your social network connections are almost more valuable. Who are you tuned in to on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I’ve personally noticed a huge difference in the quality of content between the various networks, primarily because I’m connected to different sets of people on each. The most valuable information I receive, concerning business and technology, comes from Twitter, where I’m connected to many influential people I don’t know.

Social Media Networking

There are strategies applicable to each social network. Social media has become much more diverse, now that there are a dozen major networks instead of Twitter and Facebook. Snapchat is great, but it’s expensive in terms of time and effort for engagement. Yet, the tradeoff is stronger, more personal connection for engagement.

The appropriate tactics depend on what what you’re trying to get out of each network. Do you want the most followers or the most engaged followers – hint: you want the most engaged followers. Ultimately, what you want has nothing to do with numbers: you want to people’s attention. You want to spend time thinking about your content.

My biggest problem with social media is that I don’t engage with content that other people created as much. You’d be surprised at the people who will end up responding to you in some way, but you’re more likely to get a response if you identify people who are looking to connect with others. People want to “trade up,” so you can use Klout to identify people interested in your topics who have a similar or lower Klout score and converse with them. Find the people who seem to have an inaccurately low Klout score. Or, forget about influence and Klout algother and just find positive people who want to talk about the stuff you want to talk about.

Identifying the right nuggets at the right time is crucial. You want to find content that’s on the up and up: if you re-share something that has 4,000 shares, what good does one more do. But if that reshared piece went from 10 to 4,000 a day later, then it’s more likely that you identified interesting content early. So, how do you identify content is likely to trend?

I find myself wanting better tools. Not for producing posts, but for consuming them and identify ripe content to interact with. I tried HootSuite, but I still don’t like maintaining the extra web portal and working through the channel based web interface. I’m probably doing it wrong.

It’s vital to prune our social network contacts and filter out the ones who are uhhh sucking it up with recycled memes. No offence, but the one about Sponge Bob and Hank Hill, I already saw it. Different words though. A+ for effort. To each his own, I guess. I don’t want to ignore these people either. I really don’t like the “Hide” button or whatever. But by unfollowing, you condense the information so that it’s more valuable. I would suggest creating multiple accounts … fuck that – that makes my facebook account sound like a job. Also, by narrowing your follow list down, you’re signaling to content producers an indication of what is valuable.

Which brings me to my next point: social media is democratic. One like equals one vote. Those newsfeed algorithms are powerful and valuable. They determine what is likely to be seen and what is not. In my own newsfeed on facebook, there are a set of friends who consistently get like 30-100 likes on every single thing they post, but I’m lucky to get a single comment or interaction. Ever. I don’t get it. People have told me “well, you can’t drive, but at least there’s all these online social media connections” …. PFFFTTT LMAO. Yeh, let’s trade accounts for a month and let’s see how you feel after that.

In fact, that’s a spectacular idea: trading accounts. Just for kicks.

I once sent out 75 messages after returning from an Instacart interview in San Francisco to promote their product. I didn’t expect to get anything out of it, but I included a referral code. I hoped to seed users in their active markets (there were only 10 major cities at the time) and I was curious as to whether Instacart would ever figure that out in their analytics. That they rejected my employment – no hard feelings really, though I calculated $2 million in stock options after 3 years of employment – but I still cared so much about their product that I devoted like 4 hours to sending facebook messages. You know how many people responded to me? Five. Just five. Or less. Yeh .. a bit spammy, I know, so I’m not mad. Whatevs. I was curious to see who would respond and whether Instacart would ever pick that up in their analytics. And I had a genuine interest in promoting their product.

Have I said isolated yet? Did I say that?

People use Facebook and Twitter differently: there are different categories of usage behaviors. Do you have custom lists and newsfeeds set up? I do. Do you use them? I don’t. The main feeds are so engaging that I just don’t think about it. I’d be curious to see the data on how people use these features. But if it’s not the default, you really can’t depend on people using that product. And if it’s a social media consumption feature, then as a producer or advertiser, you probably can’t query that in an API either. Which would only be mildly useful, depending on what usage patterns were available via API.

So yeh, I’m a bit bitter about my social media experience. It’s not rainbows and unicorns. It’d be nice to feel “connected” I guess. Or at least for my online social life to fill in that void left by constant moves and depression. Then again, I don’t think I want to be glued to it either. But I feel like “I did something wrong,” when really, people are probably just too click-happy with that hide button or something. I donno.

Too much information is distracting. I could watch coursera or math lectures all day and never stop like it was my job. I could just as easily read articles on Twitter 24/7 and constantly find compelling content to keep me reading. Yet, I’ve reached this point where there’s so much overlap between the knowledge I already have and the information I’m consuming that it is a serious challenge to find the valuable info that expands my knowledge or worldview. There’s way too much repetitive content out there: it’s a crowded market. It used to be exciting for me to find articles to share on Facebook in 2010, but now anything that’s important ends up in their Top Ten Trending list, so it’s basically pointless to share news articles – again, I think I’m “doing it wrong.”

But you’re basically prompting your friends with:

Hey! Do you want to read this thing that you probably already read somewhere else? If you haven’t read it, you probably already spent all the time you had available to read boring news articles about world politics or economics. But I thought I’d ask. Maybe click “like” anyways?

So yeh… I’m not great with social media. That should be clear.

Up Next:

Networking: Math and Design

In the next post on networking, I’ll describe ideas behind the design of your IRL Social Network, as well as detail the math behind it. There is a ton of math that’s involved in social situations, though it’s mostly based on set theory and statistics.

For example, the center of the table is the best place to sit, if you want to engage with a maximum number of people. If you want to restrict the number of people who can engage with you, then sit at either end of the table. Or go King Arthur and build a round table, so everyone is equidistant. That’s really the way to go.

More math: the ideal time to talk to girls at a show? If you’re actually planning on having a good first night with her/them? It’s precisely 12 O’Clock. As in, the first time you see that girl in front of you, before she has a chance to consciously think about you. That’s the statistic optimum for maximal first impression. It’s proven.

Also, the math behind designing and tapping into your social network involves much of the same stuff found in computer science. There should exist some optimal branching design for a social network that balances access to upstream nodes with influence or value for each node. This is moreso true with power structures found in corporate or governmental organizations. Additionally, you can rearrange and transform social network graphs to alternate representations with layouts that satisfy some functional objective.

In designing the social network you want to create, there are several maxim that are often repeated. There’s the famous rule of a realistic maximum of 150 connections. Another that I’d like to discuss is they saying that “you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” This speaks volumes about optimizing the design of your social network to benefit you and the people you spend the most time with.