When professors talked about networking in college, everything was tied to events and LinkedIn. I imagined walking around a large room alongside other students, chatting with the Creative Director at Ogilvy and shaking hands with Leo Burnett’s CMO. I’d slip them a business card and my resume. They’d reach out a few months later and offer a paid internship.
It never works like that.
I attended plenty of “networking” events. I sent hundreds of LinkedIn messages. But when graduation rolled around, all I’d earned was a lame part-time internship for an oral surgeon — nowhere near what I wanted to do.
My best networking experiences to date have occurred in two ways:
- By giving away something for free.
- By reaching out to someone with genuine curiosity.
In 2019 I made a powerful PR contact by offering my writing services to a small firm. They didn’t pay me. But they liked my work enough to refer me to several paid opportunities months later.
That’s networking at the highest level. And it’s something you can only learn in the real world.
Here are several more ways to build a supernormal network in your twenties.
Reply to people on Twitter
I often find the entrepreneurship/marketing-thought-leadership-linkedin-stuff exhausting to scroll through. It’s often posturing vs. actually being useful/adding any value.
What kinds of stuff do you actually like seeing/reading?
This was a question posed by a fellow content marketer on Twitter. I responded immediately with an article I’d written about LinkedIn being pretentious.
Ten minutes later my Tweet had 1,600 impressions, 70 interactions, multiple responses, and I gained a few new followers (including the tweeter).
In my opinion, Twitter has unofficially become the premier networking platform. Unlike Linkedin where messages feel salesy, Twitter needs no introductions. You’re simply responding to other people’s thoughts with your own.
It’s an ideal way to start organic conversations and build real relationships.
Leading me to tip number two…
Get involved in your community (think micro)
Twitter and Slack.
If I could only use two platforms in 2021 to bulk up my network, those would be my top choices.
Every day I’m learning, engaging, and thinking more from a first-person story on Twitter. I’m seeing insightful conversations on Slack channels happening in real-time.
In college, massive networking events were the holy-grail of “meeting” industry leaders. Realistically, you're (briefly) introduced to one of their lower-level executives who give you a minute while thinking about their next target.
Today, I can join a Slack channel for free with dozens of established marketers. Or contribute to a Twitter thread with the CEO of a top agency.
The best part? You have total control. If you don’t see a digital space you like, make your own. Start a Facebook group around a niche topic. Invite people you admire with the intent to trade knowledge and ideas. Be the host of a small community and facilitate discussions.
Micro-communities build macro connections.
Create a serendipity loop
Publishing content is the greatest networking tool nobody talks about.
On day one of my marketing career in 2017, I felt lost. I had no idea how to build my portfolio or get an agency job. Three years later, I’ve done them both.
Everything I have in my career, I owe to writing — my job, friendships, credibility. It’s opened doors I never knew existed.
“When it comes to luck you make your own.”
The best way to build a serendipity loop is to publish content online. Help people discover you with blogs, vlogs, podcasts, newsletters, etc. Generate your own hype on social media. Keep them coming back for more by purchasing a domain name and establishing a home base.
Publishing content online shifts the mindset from “I need to pursue others” to “others are going to pursue me.”
Actively engage opportunities without expectations
Shaan Puri shared a great thread about how his cousin got connected with the CEO of Social Capital, Chamath Palihapitiya.
He was listening to a podcast where the host joked Chamath should run for mayor. His cousin, excited by the idea, sent a tweet asking if anyone would be willing to create a landing page. One guy responded and said he’d do it for free that same night.
A day later, the website was live.
Chamath sent them three emails requesting a meeting. Instead of bothering a busy person, they offered him value.
Here’s what we can learn from this:
- If you have a dream marketing agency in mind, mockup a mini-campaign for one of their clients.
- If you see an industry leader ask a question online, write a detailed article with an answer and email it to them directly.
You get the idea. Go beyond expectations. All it takes is one response to change your career trajectory.
Give more than you take
Whenever I connect with someone interesting, I think “What can I do to help this individual?”
Six months ago, the CEO of a startup product-based business added me on LinkedIn. I sent him a cold email offering to write an article for the product launch, free of charge.
Not only did they send me free samples, but they shouted me out multiple times on social media when the brand went live.
I didn’t make a cent. Who cares? It was a cool experience establishing a genuine connection. And we’ve continued emailing back and forth since.
Maybe it will result in a paid project down the line. Maybe not.
I’ll always take a lasting relationship over a one and done opportunity.
A general rule of thumb: Don’t be a flake.
Credibility can vanish with a single bad interaction. Leave a poor taste in someone’s mouth and they won’t work with you again. Common sense goes a long way.
Set strict reminders to follow up with people. Show up on time. Build a reputation through actions, not words.
In my experience, the people you want to meet aren’t walking around conferences hoping to be approached.
They’re Tweeting and going on podcasts.
They’re attending small invite-only collaborations.
They're engaging with referrals or a friend of a friend.
You’re more likely to converse with them at the gym or neighborhood coffee shop than at a massive event.
Networking is outdated. It’s a phrase pushed by senior executives and university professors. Real “networking” is about relationships.
One last thing: Don’t forget to be yourself. People who like you and your work will reach out and create opportunities you never expected.
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