Networking conjures up an image of card-snatching or creepy invitations on LinkedIn or Facebook. Certainly not something that serious professionals like us would want to be associated with. So I’d rather help you build something of greater value – a community.
But first, let’s get the basics right:
Why do you want a community, or, ok, network?
Is it to sell them stuff? Uh-oh.
Is it to land a better job? Double uh-oh.
Would you want to hang out with folks who desired your company only for those two reasons?
You’d want to hang out with people who share your interests, people you have something in common with. Or maybe with folks you think you can learn from. People you have a shared experience with.
So. Let’s start work on making you an ideal Community Citizen.
Step 1: Get your objectives of community building (or networking) straight.
It is not to sell. It is not to get favours. It is to enjoy meeting new people.
But, Jessie, how do I sell then? How do I ask them for a favour?
Patience, young grasshopper.
Step 2: Find your areas of interest
Our identity is made up of so many elements:
- Marital status
- Professional qualifications
- Residence – your building, street, town, city, country
The beauty of the internet is that each of these dimensions has a dedicated community. Many have offline communities or activities too, for when we emerge from COVID hibernation.
Personally, I’m a member of a community for almost every one of these and some groups intersect two or more areas.
Jessie, I’ll enjoy this, but, how will I get a job or business?
Patience, Young Grasshopper!
Step 3: Contribute
When you are in a group, you have to contribute! You have to respond to questions or volunteer to solve a problem. Communities operate on the pay-it-forward principle. You scratch their back, and when you itch, they’ll scratch yours. At least in theory. But the fact is, that many groups require you to do a bit more than that.
Yes, just showing up, liking and commenting or even donating may not be enough! So you need the next step.
Step 4: Make it personal
Try to build a deeper relationship with a few members. This can be through personal messages, meeting them or following up after helping them out with a problem. Nothing creepy, but just normal “getting to know you” behaviour.
Step 5: Shine brightly
If you are expecting benefits from the group it is not sufficient to be a wallflower or a mere member. Even in a Whatsapp group of 200+ it isn’t that easy to remember everyone. And many groups run in the thousands.
But every group has its stars – people who are visible and noticeable. Some are the glue who hold the community together, others offer their advice or services, some others share their achievements and others provide tangible contributions to the community.
If you aren’t noticeable, then chances of your getting help from the larger community are lowered. You can still make a personal connect with a few and benefit from those relationships.
Step 6: Ask
Once you have established yourself in the community, feel free to put out your “asks” either to the individuals you have connected with personally, or to the group as a whole.
So, Young Grasshopper, I hope I have answered your question.
What about a business, did you say?
It’s the same steps. The kind of groups a brand would participate in would also be driven by its identity and the more solidly it plays nice with its partners, the more they would reciprocate. So a company participating actively in say the World Economic Forum is more likely to see business benefits than one that just shows up for the Annual Event. The more communities that overlap, and thus more opportunities for meeting other members, the more the benefit. So a firm that was a member of WEF and say the Aspen Institute would see more benefits than one that was a member of just one.
Is community building hard to do?
Will it deliver quick results? No.
But I rather doubt those desperate “buy me” mails to fresh connects on LinkedIn deliver results either.
Napoleon ordered the planting of trees on the roads of France so that his troops would have shade as they marched. Community building requires similar time.
But, Jessie, I need to sell now! I need help to find a new job now!
Patience, Young Grasshopper.
Like they say, the best time to plant trees is 20 years ago. Or today.
If your need is urgent, focus on communities where you have the strongest ready-made affinity.
Typical examples are:
- Extended family
And even while your need is high, start investing in these communities for the long term and future needs.
One last point – if you (or your brand) have the credentials, think about starting your own community. You will be the star of that one and it can leverage any of the elements of your identity that you feel passionate about. You can fine-tune to meet your business or personal goals too!
I wish you all the best as you launch your community careers 🙂
If you have a question, you can always ping me on LinkedIn.