The old adage It’s not what you know; it’s who you know may be seen as a tired cliche in many circles these days, with good reason. This is what you’d expect from overused analogies like this one.
Tired or not, it is still absolutely a fact. Thought leaders spend unbelievable time and effort trying to hammer home this message in an online context, wrapping words like social networking, social media, social graph, and other terms around it in hopes of getting the message across.
The problem? Well, there is a forest, and there are some trees, but are they one and the same? Not really…
Social Networking vs. Social Media
First let’s draw lines between a couple of terms that I see being used interchangeably far too often. My loose definitions read something like this:
The act of reaching out to and engaging others via whatever means possible, including social media, traditional media, real-time communications vehicles (phone, SMS), or even an in-person conversation (remember those?).
The category term for data-driven services and tools, typically delivered over the Internet, that enable networking of various types by providing new and novel communications capabilities, leading to unique ways of sharing and spreading messages with your network.
Social Networking = Networking
Bear with me for a moment as I explain the thinking on this one. I’m positing that Social Networking is nothing new. In fact it’s simply old fashioned networking, with new communications vehicles available for the exchange of information and referrals.
At the end of the day, we are still people with real-world needs. This isn’t just about the “must haves” from Maslow’s Triangle either. We get our food, shelter, etc. (the basics) handled offline with our day-to-day lives. But all of that stuff about self-actualization, spiritual growth, career progression, etc. take much more than us working hard during the day and cashing checks for our time and effort.
Now we just have limitless opportunity to expand the “who” in our analogy above. The days are over where your only networking option was to go one of to those awful events where a bunch of Type A exec-wannabes are running around in Dockers, with their hand extended to shake yours, and a business card waiting to be shoved into your pocket in the other hand. Or where you had to arrange your schedule around an event where a thought leader is speaking, just so you can wait in line to guffaw over them and hope you don’t look like a dopey (or creepy) stalker-in-waiting.
Now we can build rapport with anyone that makes him- or herself available. We can establish mutual interest, trust, even schedule availability to meet in real-time.
And once we meet, we already have a foundation upon which to spark interesting conversation. I must say, any introverts who aren’t rejoicing at this newfound way to “come out of their shell” are simply missing the big picture!
New Tools; Old Techniques
The key thing to keep in mind is that all of these cool new tools, websites, and services are just that…tools for us to use. We need to then apply tried-and-true networking and communications techniques to these new tools, and we’ll be able to more nimbly craft networking strategies that take advantage of both the new capabilities and approaches that work.
Once we get that part in order, we can start to experiment with any sort of newfound techniques. Perhaps certain types of discussions are better started on a microblogging service, while others are better on a career networking site. Maybe some belong on Facebook but wouldn’t work anywhere else. I’ve found that Twitter is great for exchanging ideas, sharing content, and promoting services tactfully (i.e. no hard sells). LinkedIn is great for reconnecting with old colleagues, interacting in groups with likeminded professionals, and trying to connect your way to the right people via a “6 degrees of separation” like effort.
You get the picture. These new tools are great, but they can only go so far as your imagination. Get the basics down first…how to use these tools for traditional / IRL networking…and then you can start to try new things. And yes, this does involve getting off the computer and meeting someone in person! If that’s not one of the reasons you’re doing this, then it should be.
What have you observed in the past in this area? How much more effective has it been for you when you blend offline networking with online / social media-based networking? What do you deem the best mix? Or alternatively, have you seen the opposite?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share in the comments below.