Very few will argue that creating a quality personal network is the key to a long and prosperous career. These networks are formed by the quantity of connections, quality of the connections and the resources available between the connections. The value you get from these connections is called Social Capital. Our friends at Harvard University suggest that “Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”].” The major benefits in these types of social interactions are information flows, reciprocity, collective action and a broader sense of solidarity. These benefits lead us to new opportunities, which, in turn, provide us a sense of growth in our lives. The idea of social capital is quite old (first published in 1916) but the methods for engaging in social interaction on a global scale are fairly new. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other social networking tools have popped up over the years to provide individuals with a method for creating more value in their lives (and their connections). Unfortunately, many of us still haven’t mastered the art of building social capital. Here are a few things we get wrong in building our social capital.
Too few quality connections. Our personal network is the source of our opportunity. Our connections have resources that are beneficial to future progress in our career and life. What resources do they have that are helpful? That’s a question you should be asking to your current and potential connections. As you might suspect, the more quality connections you have, the more potential you have to create social capital. You just need to make sure these new connections are ready, willing and able to be an active participant in the relationship and that they have resources that are beneficial (e.g. connections, knowledge, skills). You need to constantly assess the value of each of your connections. If you’ve been connected for years and never shared a word with your connections, obviously they aren’t doing you any good. And collecting a lot more of these connections won’t help either.
Too passive. Creating a profile on social networking sites isn’t sufficient for building a network. To reach the benefits of social capital, you have to first build trust and then a reputation with your connections. Both of these factors require interactions and effort. If you are just sitting and waiting for opportunity to come to you, you should plan to be waiting for a long time. Your strategy should be to give your efforts and resources to others to build their trust in you and to build your reputation as a solid supporter of such relationships. Then, you’ll invoke the sense of reciprocity in your connections. Very few people are willing to give their time if they don’t see something in it for them. By giving first, you put that question to rest for good.
Your network isn’t diverse. One of my favorite motivational speakers, Les Brown, once said that you make within $6000 of those you hang around with. In other words, we have a tendency to associate with others who are very similar to us in occupation, lifestyle, financial status and personality. I think it makes us feel safe. But this sense of safety comes at a price. People who are in the same situation we are in most likely have the same resources we do (e.g. network, knowledge, skills) and, as such, can’t provide any considerable fuel to our progress. Branching out of your safe zone to others outside of you occupation, financial status and knowledge base will give you insights that will certainly fuel your growth. Remember the book Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD? It’s about mice in a maze and an experimental movement of the cheese. Some mice stay where the cheese was put every day, even after it doesn’t show up anymore. If you don’t have a diverse network, you might be asking the guy beside you, who is also staring at the missing cheese, “hey, where’s the cheese?” You should be finding the guy who found the cheese. Aim for diversity. You won’t be sorry you did.
Lack of brand power. As we look to our connections for resources to help build our future, others will do the same with us. Building a profile that enhances trust and respect is a quick way to invite others to connect with you. Building a better brand requires three things: defining what you have to offer, providing evidence that your offering is real and tangible, and communicating your value clearly so that others understand what you offer. If I can’t discern what you’re good at by looking at your profile or from a short conversation with you, I probably won’t push to make a real connection with you. For example, a writer will clearly identify his genre in his profile (e.g. non-fiction). Then, he would list or provide links to his published books so that you can validate his claim to authorship. Once it’s validated, the relationship can move to the next level; that is, reputation. How well have the books sold? This is evaluated at many levels, meaning that it will not discourage people from working with you, but it will likely ensure that those who engage will have less experience in writing than you do. If you want to connect with those with more experience, you’ll likely have to seek them out yourself.
The development of social capital requires the ability to network efficiently and effectively. It requires a lot of work. There is sufficient research to show that you can build a better network through mentors. If you don’t know how, take time to get help with it. If all else fails, give. Offer others your time and energy. There’s no better way to invoke reciprocity than giving people something without asking. After a few iterations, you build trust. After a few more iterations, you build a reputation. Then, people will want to be connected to you. Their skills and resources become yours. They deposit their value in your bank. Then you have plenty of capital to achieve the goals you want to achieve.