Your network is the sum total of all of your contacts. Your Gmail contacts, connections on LinkedIn, followers on Twitter, friends on Facebook, and all the other people you’re associated with on social networks. And there are a lot of social networks available. When you add in sites like Quora, Slideshare, and Medium – chances are your network is much larger than you first realized. So, how are you going to leverage this mass of people?
Before we get started I would like to make clear the difference between network and community. Your network is just that – yours. It’s who you are connected to. And yes, it can also include who your connections are connected to. But a community is different. A community is a number of people coming together because of a common interest. Be it as simple as romance novels or as complex as striving to end child hunger or as varied as the development issues tackled on StackExchange daily, communities work together, all for one and one for all, to achieve a desired goal.
Can network contacts become community members? Of course! And vice versa. But at their core networks and communities are vastly different. They are motivated by different things. So the tactics for leveraging them are not the same.
It’s all about me
At the end of day – it truly is. Your network contacts want to know how you can help them and I’m guessing you want to know how your contacts can help you. With the goal being a mutually beneficial relationship I think you’ll find the following tips for leveraging your networks very useful.
Let’s tackle the big 3: LinkedIn, Twitter, and Gmail.
LinkedIn. Be a smart networker – NOT a LION.
The key to success on LinkedIn is having a smart network. Connect with people who you can offer value to and who in turn can offer you value. Connecting with anyone and everyone quickly dilutes the power of your network and leaves you vulnerable to mass amounts of spam email, irrelevant content overload, and unexpected skill endorsements. All of which lessen the strength of your online persona. Remember, the “linked” in LinkedIn is the foundation of the network.
3 easy steps to building a smart LinkedIn network:
- Invite existing contacts to connect with you on LinkedIn
- Be judicious when accepting LinkedIn connections from people you do not know
- Connect with LinkedIn Group members who have proven their expertise by sharing valuable content and great commentary to discussions
Make your LinkedIn Network Work for You
LinkedIn has many built-in features to enable your connections to effortlessly amplify your message.
LinkedIn Updates: Like, Comment, Share – Realize that each of these activities go into or shape your “feed” on LinkedIn, and those which you comment or like will be directly notified of your contribution. Positive behavior is frequently reciprocated so set the standard high for your network.
LinkedIn Publisher: Since taking the reigns off INfluencer-only posts, LinkedIn is well on its way to becoming an individual business daily for each of its 332M+ members. Leverage this content creation feature to gain maximum exposure to your personal thought leadership and business objectives.
LinkedIn 2nd and 3rd Connections: Advanced Search reveals many levels of targeting, including Seniority Level, Interests, Company Size and more that are unavailable anywhere else on the Web. Use this feature to ask current connections to introduce you to their connections and expand your network in a very smart and strategic manner.
LinkedIn Recommendations: These are the public proof points that validate your work career, as well as your former employees and colleagues that you provide recommendations for. Use and contribute them wisely as they are fairly infrequent, yet last (digitally) forever.
Twitter. Social is a communication channel – not an advertising channel
Twitter is my favorite social network. As a naturally concise speaker the 140 character limit is a dream come true and the fast-paced format nicely complements my absurdly capable multitasking skills. The third and most valid reason is that it is incredibly easy to get someone’s attention and showcase your expertise without being self-promotional or disruptive. Strive to always share content that educates your network (with personalized commentary when possible) and position yourself as a trusted advisor who is knowledgeable on a variety of topics. Don’t be afraid to share your hobbies and lesser known skills! There are probably lots of people who cut their sandwiches into tangrams!
Subtle is the new power play
For a social business professional Twitter is the home of the soft touch. Follow, Favorite, Re-Tweet, and Add-to-List are all effective ways to get someone’s attention. With the aid of hashtags it is also possible to extend your tweet impressions outside your network and share your knowledge with literally millions of people.
Use these three Twitter features to leverage your network:
Hashtags: The invention of the hashtag has undoubtedly changed the way we source and digest information online. And by far the greatest advantage is the ability for a hashtag to collate and amplify information. Use hashtags so that your network can easily identify content that matters to them and also attract new contacts to your network.
Twitter chats: One of the greatest uses of hashtags is to create live discussions called Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is typically a weekly event that uses a hashtag and a simple question and answer format to allow people to participate in a live online conversation. Engaging in these conversations is a great way to converse with many of your contacts at once, showcase your expertise, and also be introduced to new contacts.
Twitter Lists: Twitter’s list feature is an under-utilized networking tactic. When you add someone to a public Twitter list they are notified in-app and also by email making it a great way to show someone you appreciate them. Everytime I get added to a “B2B Marketing Mavens” or “Social Selling Must-Watch” list I do a happy jig. Twitter lists are a fantastic way to segment your contacts and keep a close eye on people important to you. Twitter also has the option to create a private list which is an ideal process to monitor prospects and competitors.
Gmail automatically collects every email address you mail to or receive mail from. This means your Gmail contact list is no doubt impressive — and just ripe for leveraging! One of my daily social strategy reminders is “be interested to be interesting” and having this mindset ensures that each conversation I solicit and every engagement opportunity I respond to puts the other person first. This is also an excellent perspective when endeavoring to leverage your Gmail contacts.
Assuming your Gmail contact list is extensive I am also going to assume that most of your Gmail contacts live in the dark, dusty, and forgotten corner of your inbox. But these contacts are people. And these people may be doing exciting things that could help you and your business. Let’s engage with them!
Segment Your Contacts: One of the easiest ways to segment your Gmail contacts is to create Groups. This feature allows you to quickly organize your contacts, making it easier to email a specific set of people. For example, you could create a contact group called “San Francisco,” and then just send a message to that group, rather than sending out an email to 25+ individuals when you are planning to be in that area. Very efficient — and you’ll never forget to email someone important again!
Regular Email Updates: Once you have your Gmail contacts segmented into Groups it is very easy to start sending out emails on a monthly or quarterly basis. If you create or your own content or actively curate quality content consider sending out a monthly newsletter that includes a brief update about what’s new with you and links to two or three great articles. This communication creates opportunities for engagement, allows you to stay top of mind with important contacts, and also gives your contacts reasons to forward to email to others to broaden your reach.
Integrations: Gmail offers a variety integrations to help monitor your email communications and increase opportunities for engagement. Some of my favorites include ContactMonkey and Rapportive. These applications enable you to better understand your networks behavior and also proactively engage with important contacts.
Your network is your most precious business asset. It’s a dynamic digital version of a Rolodex, one that now can contain many moving pieces unlike the old days. Your contacts are no longer stagnant. Instead, they are truly a useful, accessible, and up-to-date reference resource — one that will contribute in a measurable way to the growth of your business. The value of a well-maintained network simply can’t be overstated.
Obviously you aren’t likely to do all of the 10 suggested actions, so start with the most promising — the ones you know you can tackle and succeed at. You’ll find using your network in this way to be a game changer!
I’ve shared my best practices, now I’d love to hear how you maintain and leverage your network.