Networking experts will often tell you about the importance of ‘working your network’. Indeed, good networkers will invariably have a communication strategy for keeping close to their strong, important contacts – even if it is a back-of-an-envelope-job for keeping relationship plates spinning.
Tools like LinkedIn increasingly help us to do just that, and it’s great to see that a number of CRM systems now enable to you to closely monitor the social media activities of your key connections in order to give you ‘opportunities to engage’.
These 1st degree individuals are often seen as the most valuable connections, because they open doors to a wider network where even more, as yet unknown business or job opportunities await. 1st degree connections are also vital in supporting the perception of our expertise, credibility and professionalism. But the nature of social media being what it is, just one slip-up in our online behaviour has the potential to cause damage to our reputation far and wide.
Tight connections can also be extremely valuable when leveraging a niche – indeed small networks of individuals (even cliques) can be extremely tight, and where members will work hard to support one another in their (albeit small) community. Whilst many networkers favour having as many contacts as possible, focusing on a small, tight niche can also be a valid strategy for some people, particularly if you’re looking to grow a presence or sales within a specific target market. Small niches though can often be hard to infiltrate – but again sites like LinkedIn help to oil the wheels through features like Groups.
The benefits of having tight connections – either individual connections or through membership of niche groups can, in time be highly valuable to the proactive networker. But have you stopped to consider the potential benefit of focusing on not your tight connections – but your loose connections?
What are ‘loose connections’?
On the surface these can be acquaintances – people we’ve met but haven’t really built a relationship with. But the loose connections I’m interested in are those that you probably don’t even know exist, and where a catalyst is often needed to spark a desire to connect.
In fact, many loose connections will in time become tight connections, but something needs to happen to a) discover a loose connection and b) realise the potential that can exist within having a relationship at all.
Search for Loose Connections
Some of my very best networking experiences have come about through deliberately searching for loose connections, and actually going out of my way to find people who I don’t (yet) know - but initiating the relationship through focus on something small and apparently trivial which connects us.
LinkedIn is often described as a ‘professional networking site’ and many members want to keep it that way. But some of the dullest profiles on LinkedIn are those which come across as just a bit ‘too professional’. Indeed, as the proverb goes “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” so it’s important that profiles exhibit light, shade and a human touch.
People buy People – they always have done and always will. But all too often LinkedIn profiles don’t show our human sides. So a simple and really important thing to do, is to put some proper effort into the Interests section down there inAdditional Information.
(By the way, if you believe, as I do that showing your human side is important, consider reordering the sections of your LinkedIn profile, and drag the Additional Info section higher up the page so that people can get a sense of who you are and your interests outside work much more quickly.)
Whilst you might want to include a couple of work related keywords in your Interests section, here is the place to show your human side – your passions and your pastimes. Here is the social media equivalent of that last-thought, but often bland section of your CV where you write Reading, Walking and Socialising in the hope that it might impress a potential employer.
The great thing about the Interests section on your LinkedIn profile, is that it is an integral part of how you present yourself online, whereas interests on a CV are often seen as an afterthought. Each interest on your LinkedIn profile is clickable and searchable – and this is where the magic happens.
Hobbies, pastimes and passions are those loose connections we’re looking for. They are the pathway to people you want to meet, but who you didn’t yet know exist.
I’ve done this a number of times. For example, in my speaking business, it’s very important that I know meeting planners and conference organisers – particularly people who book speakers. They’re easy to find by simply searching LinkedIn, but a search for (say) ‘Conference Organiser’ reveals 2,400 results. A search for ‘Meeting Planner’ produces over 13,000 results.
That’s great if I’ve got the time to wade through them all, so let’s try it another way by searching for a loose connection.
What I want to do is to find conference organisers or meeting planners who have even the loosest of connection to me - a connection that at this moment in time, neither of us even knows exists. So let’s go to my Interests section and pick one at random. How about “Ashtanga Yoga”.
I click on “Ashtanga Yoga” and hey presto, it finds me the 9, 710 people on LinkedIn who also have that on their profile. That’s right – when you click on an interest on your own or someone else’s profile, LinkedIn will show you everyone else on the site who has that word on their profile
Now we want to tweak the result, and using the filters on the left of the search results page I find the Industry filter and add ‘Events Services’. That narrows the search result down to just 59 people which is a much more manageable number, but I can still do better.
So I do one further tweak and choose the country. By clicking the United Kingdom box, the list drops down to 8 people (19 in the United States).
And there I have eight people who I want to meet and with whom I already have something in common – a loose connection – but a connection which will make it very very much easier for me to make contact and to look for ways to build a business relationship.
Try this approach yourself now.
First, revisit the Additional Info section of your profile and add in your hobbies, interests and passions. Try to write individual words rather than a sentence because that makes the search more accurate when you click on the word. Click on some of your interests and then filter the results by location and industry. People often tell me that they’ve found potentially important contacts almost immediately when they use this technique.
If you don’t find some useful contacts straight away, keep trying with other words in your Interests list and it won’t be long before you find the golden nuggets.
Tight connections are of course important – they are the core of your personal network. But from time to time, try exploring those loose connections – those small but potentially vital aspects of you and your life which through serendipity can often lead to the strongest, tightest and most valuable of relationships.
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