In my previous post, I discussed networking science, the concept of an open network and how it's the #1 predictor of career success. I shared the story of Paul Revere and how his open network turned him into an information broker. He was not special; he was just more efficient in spreading the message that the Revolutionary War had begun.

I highly doubt Paul Revere read a book on networking. For me, everything I’ve read so far about networking science is common sense. So I’ll go rogue in this post, sans research, and explain how I built my network.

I’ve always viewed networking as an opportunity to connect with diverse groups of people. I have a lot of diverse interests so it’s rather easy to pull in people from my ballet, music, finance, writing and photography worlds as well as friends through church, college and graduate school. But it takes a lot of work to keep up with and grow my network. It's work I'm happy to do because it's good for my career, my employer and, as a result, my customers. 

Some people collect things -- I collect people. How do I do this?

As early as elementary school, I started collecting my network of contacts as a means to staying in touch with my friends while I moved a lot and trained with major ballet companies around the world. Now as an adult, here are some of my best practices:

  • I actively add every person I meet to LinkedIn and send a personal note about how we met. I do not accept people I do not know so my contacts are high quality contacts for the most part.
  • I attended top schools, in part, so that I could access those networks more easily. If you are considering graduate school, consider the network and how active it is.
  • I try to not burn bridges but when I do, I usually have a good reason and am happy to tell the person to their face should they ask me. I struggle balancing honesty and kindness but always strive to be kind. Nobody is perfect but you don’t need to be spineless about it either.
  • If I do burn a bridge by mistake, I try my best to repair it. I once sent a bouquet of flowers to someone because she didn't like how I responded in an email and I felt terrible about it. Flowers are an expensive apology. I feel your pain guys.
  • Social media is a legitimate way of how to build your network. Check out the blog post I wrote for Hubspot’s Sidekick blog about how I once used social media to get the attention of a Starbucks executive.
  • Because I leverage social networks to collect most of my contacts, it’s easier to look up and contact my dormant ties for lunch or coffee when traveling to a particular area. No matter how busy my schedule may be on any given trip, I strive to make time to connect, in-person, with at least one contact in my destination city.

How I Categorize My Network Contacts

When I meet new people, I categorize them into three buckets: aspirational contacts, peers and acquaintances. Not all contacts are created equally. It’s important to consider the power structure and your place in that structure. I have three lists I bucket people into. There are some people whom you will treat more as a mentor/advisor; I call these aspirational contacts, while others are peers or acquaintances. You can also read more detail in a post I wrote for Hubspot’s Sidekick blog.

Aspirational Contacts

Peers

Acquaintances

I admire because they achieved some level of success in their life.

Are at the same level of success as me or are working hard to be successful.

I have to be cordial with.

Are typically 10-40 years older than me and serve as a sounding board.

I can partner with on projects or brainstorm new ideas with.

I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know well.

I can sometimes ask for help with an introduction or general advice.

I get as much in return as I give them.

Interactions I’ve had with them have not always left a good impression.

 

 

How I Leverage Online Networking Tools to Organize and Simplify

In addition to categorizing and organizing my network, I use several tools to help me simplify the outreach process and make my business networking efforts more impactful.

The first thing I do before I meet someone is search for them online. I want to see what they’ve done, what they’ve said in the media, etc. This helps me tailor my conversations with them so we have more to connect on. Also, if I follow them on social media, I learn what their likes and interests are and I can interact with them more authentically by leveraging shared interests and experiences.

I Leverage and Manage My Online Presence and Identity as Carefully as I Do My Offline Presence and Identity

While different parts of the world use social networks differently, for example, in EMEA, Facebook is used equally for business networking as it is for personal connections, the networks I list below continue to present a powerful method for helping grow your network. I approach each network differently, using them to connect with and grow my relationship with contacts within each of my three buckets. Here's how I use them:

  • Twitter: I mix professional and social interests with the occasional personal tweet. Interacting with other users is key to build your network and connections. I’ve made many new connections using Twitter.
  • Facebook: I focus on friends and family but the occasional professional contact creeps in. As a result, I’ve started using these three lists to determine my privacy settings: friends, acquaintances and restricted. This helps me easily edit who can see which of my posts.
  • LinkedIn: I only add people that I know or have met and often ask for introductions to 2nd degree connections. To expand my LinkedIn presence and network, I post articles on topics I’m passionate about and where I consider myself to be a thought-leader. When I have an interesting insight or valuable thought to share, I engage in LinkedIn Groups discussions. No matter what, I focus on sharing only high quality information that others may find of personal benefit.
  • Google+: For me personally, I haven’t found it to be useful but I would love to hear your best practices. Tweet me @dialexa and let me know how it works best for you!

A Few More Tools I Use to Leverage and Manage My Online Presence and Identity:

  • About.me: It's a very simple landing page that allows people to email me and see all of my social media links in one place.
  • A Blog: I write actively, whether on my personal blog, on Medium or Tumblr or for publications. It gets my name out and also gives others a reason to reach out. In the past, I have sent a relatable post to someone I'd like to connect with to help jumpstart the conversation.
  • Rapportive: When emailing, it gives me additional info on and potential connection points for the person I am emailing. It also helps me figure out the right email address if I don’t have it.
  • School Directories: Most universities have an online directory of professors, students and alumni. I have utilized these to identify folks I should be connected with.
  • Instagram: This I am finding to become a very powerful tool. I keep my account private, however multi-million dollar businesses, brands and book authors have been built on Instagram. Just look at Humans of New York series – this started as an Instagram account and is now impacting lives all over the world. Never be afraid to experiment.

I am interested in learning more about which networking tools you use and your business networking best practices. Tweet back at @dialexa and I will write another post with your idea submissions.

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