I’ve been thinking about “connections” more since I read “Never eat alone” by Keith Ferazzi. I’ve been maintaining and gradually building my network profiles on Linkedin and Facebook since 2007. It’s 2011 and I got something to say on the matter.
It’s important to have many connections. Linkedin uses this notion to sell premium accounts. Business development people buy into it and build 500+ profiles. Then, they send Linkedin messages like:
Hello there ! Since we are working in the same field, I thought we could connect on Linkedin and share some knowledge ! Hope you don’t mind :)
First, I’m wondering if people really respond to these requests. Second, does the number of connections gained this way matter? Here’s a few thoughts to explain my point.
Depth of connections. A tricky thing. Number of connection points between two people. And I’m not talking about how many people these two know in common. It’s rather, a number of interests that connect two people. For example, there are people that I connect with as a marketer, sportsman, musician. These kinds of connections are much deeper than connections based on one interest: musician only OR marketer only.
We don’t know many things about people we work with. Here’s an example. I recently attended a great event. It was a social gathering to celebrate 2010. There were people from many walks of life: politics, business, arts. In 2010 we were all drawn together to support Barb Higgins. During the campaign each of us was focused on his / her own function as a campaign member. Things went by fast. After the end of the campaign we all got back to our regular lives.
Here we were, at the end of 2010 at this event organized by Scout Communications. That night I’ve had a few great conversations with these people I thought I knew. What I realized was that I didn’t know much about them. These people ended up being so interesting, so diverse and clever in so many areas. I learned about their families, hobbies, backgrounds. And it allowed me to connect with them on a number of different levels making our connection stronger.
Side note: Number of friends in common does not mean we’re close or we ever met. A cool example is a person that’s being recommended as a friend on Facebook has 76 friends in common and I don’t even know this person.
Keep in touch with your connections. No matter how many connections you have, if you don’t keep in touch, connections get weak. But not to worry, there’s a number of tools and processes you can use to ensure you’re staying in touch.
- Etacts: This is (was) my favourite (but died on Jan 31, 2011). Etacts integrates with Gmail, scans your history of conversations and shows who you should contact soon. You can customize which people you want to contact and how often.
- Gist: It’s a set of tools that allows you to keep your network connections in one place, manage information, and schedule and track correspondence. If you prefer Gmail as your email communications tool, Gist now has a plugin for it.
- Linkedin connections tagging. You can tag your connections in My Connections manager with appropriate keywords. This will allow you to group your network by interests or ways you’ve met. For example, music, business, conference, skiing, etc.
- Facebook friends lists. In a very similar to Linkedin way you can group people into “lists”. Again, you can create lists by interests, geography, etc. Then, assign your friends to one or more lists.
It’s not as important who you are online as it’s important who you are as a person. I’ve been thinking long about the “online vs. offline” dichotomy. Should you create one persona for online and one for offline? Should there be multiple online personas: “marketer”, “musician”, etc.? Or should there be one? The more I think about it, the more I lean towards one. Here are some great benefits to having one web persona:
- You’re not polluting the web with multiple profiles. One of the main reasons there’s lots of garbage online is exactly this.
- You’re not confusing people with multiple usernames. If people ever want to get in touch with you, they should be able to by conducting a simple Google search.
- You’re staying transparent to the world. People are more likely to develop relationships with people that are transparent.
Develop as a balanced person. Although they say that it’s better to be a “master of one” than “Jack of all trades”, I think it only applies to the field of business, which is a very narrow thing comparing to “You” as a whole. I think “you” ARE much more diverse and interesting than your business specialization. So, my take at being a balanced individual is that in order to succeed, think unconventionally and be a leader in the field one should be able to draw from various fields of life.
The bottom line is that the number of connections does not matter at all. I have many connections but I feel very unfortunate that I don’t have time to keep up with all the wonderful people I’ve met in my life. Hence I will commit to two things here:
- I will start integrating all various groups I’m part of: geography, language, business, arts, sports.
- I will improve communication within my current network of friends and colleagues.
These are the lessons learned so far:
- Trying to get as many connections as possible is an erroneous goal. Sales people can probably justify that by the rules of statistics.
- When you meet a person try to connect on more than one level.
- Keep in touch with your connections. Connections get weak if you don’t develop them. There’s a saying in Russian that translates “an old friend is better that two of the new ones”.
- Develop as a balanced person in multiple areas. Make your connections more colourful.
I hope to hear some of your experiences with connections and the ways you stay in touch with your network using some of the online communications (read as social media) tools.