The first time that “networking” was explained to me, it didn’t quite sit well. I remember listening to a friend carry on about the finer points of the craft. “I’m not kidding!” he went on, “you have to hold your coffee and cookies with your left hand, so that you can shake people’s hands with your right one!” He was just fresh off a seminar in the college of business that went over the ins and outs of making connections. I guess you could say I was repulsed. I got home, booted up Facebook, and scribbled out a status message:
“I am 100% not interested in networking with anyone. Ever”
Simple, angsty, and to the point. It only took about 30 seconds for the comments to start pouring in. Back in those days, I had quite a cadre of Facebook friends who were ready and willing to offer an opinion on just about any status message I could come up with. They had no shortage of comments for this one, ranging from supportive cheers from the Fight Club crowd to dour jeers from the American Psychos in training, I had quite a diversity of opinion in front of me.
So here I was, sitting in my dorm room thinking that – for someone who doesn’t like networking – I have quite a few people here that I’m interacting with, exchanging thoughts, and introducing to other friends. I had to say, not a bad network at all. That was 7 years ago.
Much like office politics, you quickly learn that networking is a game that you must play whether you want to or not. Even by not playing, you are playing (silence crafts a substantial image for yourself). But while the idea of fumbling a plate of chocolate éclairs over to my left hand in order to shake some mustached suit’s palm made me queasy, the idea of networking online didn’t seem so bad.
A few self-reinventions later, and I finally embraced social technology beyond Facebook. It was online that I discovered how very magical “networking” actually is. There are few feelings as relieving as remembering that an unanswerable question can be outsourced to thousands on Quora or my Twitter account. Or that a fundraiser can attract 50 guests in ten minutes on Facebook. Or even that five of my favorite knuckleheads and I can watch a YouTube video together on Google+.
Many of you reading this might not think of this at networking, per se. But this is in fact the very definition of networking. Bringing people together and seeing what happens. The myth of the self-made man is old news. We’ve known for a long time that man (or woman) is no island. People love to help people, and they love to help even more when the barriers are lowered. The joy that I personally get from connecting people is unparalleled – and I can do it in my pajamas. Just as a candle does not lose its flame from lighting another, goodwill and interconnection are self-propelling. This is what one means by “the magic of networking.”
Social media is, of course, the perfect tool for this sort of magic. It expedites the process and breeds an unconscious familiarity between people even if they aren’t interacting one to one (how many times, for example, do you feel like you know what’s happening in a friend’s life on Facebook without actually haven spoken to him or her in years).
But networking is not all sunshine and raspberries. It can take persistence, and patience. It doesn’t seem that way in the rapid transactional world of the internet, but usually only part of a networking relationship can be fostered over social media. The rest must be done elsewhere – in the office, the cafe, the airplane, the pub, or the classroom. While barriers of geography and time may separate people from ever sharing a gin and tonic in person, many of my online relationships have spun off into long emails, referrals for jobs, or – in the case of me writing this – have even taken the form of becoming writers for someone else’s blog.
So give it up. You’re going to network. It doesn’t matter who you network with or what for. It’s not just for business-types any longer. The longer you act like you’re not involved, the longer you miss out on the opportunity to do something powerful.
Hell, let’s do it together.