A member of my Los Angeles based networking dinner group ExecTec and I were chatting the other day about managing one’s networks. They were concerned that they had devalued the usability of one of the online tools they were using because they had over connected with people.
This got me thinking about my theory of networking circles. In short, one needs to decide which networking tools one wants to use and for which purpose.
For some, Linkedin lends itself to professional and trusted networking while Facebook lends itself to a more socially/friendly crowd of school friends. The real challenge is where to draw the line as to who to connect with and where if at all.
Many maintain strict rules about who they connect with in these two more trusted networks. By limiting connections to people you actually know or have had more than minimal connections with it is possible to maximize the quality and usefulness of these tools. This also allows you to be a bit more free to share (remembering that one must be willing to live with whatever they say online) among friends and trusted associates.
The crux of the problem is what to do with people who might want to get to know you and who might prove to be valuable but are not yet part of your trusted inner circle. This is where some of the other broader social networking tools come to play. Sites like Twitter, Quora, Instagram, Blogs/comments and even a group like ExecTec can all allow you to have ever broader relationships without compromising one’s inner networking circles by including people you have not really gotten to know yet.
These tools allow you to develop and track relationships with those who are or might be of interest to you but who you do not yet know well enough to bring into your more trusted networking circles.
Twitter is great for getting to know people from far and wide and is very interest related based on who you choose to follow. I know of someone who, via twitter, came to know an author she respected and had written about on her blog. After a few casually virtual interactions the author happened to tweet he was in the city she lived in and when she reached out and the author invited her to dinner.
Likewise, Quora is a tool that allows you to follow topics of interest as well as people at large. By commenting, voting up and thanking those who participate in the site you are creating positive interactions and you can even choose to answer a few questions of your own sharing your expertise and improving your own social presence.
Instagram allows those more visually inclined to engage and or be engaged with on various topics. The images are in some ways more personal and allow more natural/organic interactions with followers or people you follow who you might have a more casual connection with.
The idea is to not limit your potential interactions but allows looser connections to work their way into the inner circles or more closely held tools.
This technique can also work well for companies who fear that their social media efforts will swamp their available time while producing no or little return for their efforts. Having a strategy that allows a large potential audience to reach out and interact while preserving an inner circle where more detailed information can be shared and interactions can get more real is good for both the company and their audience.
A Facebook page or product forum might be more of an inner circle, in this case, becoming a place for those customers and evangelist of a product to engage with the company and each other while not crossing these customers with the noise of your marketing the product to others.
The key is to manage your networking tools so that you preserve the inherent value while still being open to creating and interacting with new contacts. After all, networking is never static and is as much about new and potential relationships as it is about one’s existing relationships.