Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

Building Networks vs. Building Relationships
April 24, 2009, 7:00 am
Filed under: Networking/Social Media

I’m in a line of work where it is essential to build networks. Without networks, I would not have resources from which to source potential future employees. Today, more than ever, it is important to network and make connections with others – if for no other reason than to prepare for your career rug to possibly be pulled out from under you.

There are tons of people giving advice on how to network, when to network, where to network, etc. But who is giving advice on what to do with your network? Once you bring someone into your network, what do you do with them?

Some would say to use your network to promote your business or your service. Some say to ask them for assistance with your job search, or ask them to help spread the word about something you’re doing.

What is the common ground for each of these items? They are all for YOUR benefit. Not necessarily the benefit of your new connection. I know it’s cliché, but there’s an old saying that goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

So, here’s what I think you should do with your new networked connections: GIVE FIRST. Which leads me to my point – there is a difference between building your network and building relationships.

When I was laid off at the end of February, an individual reached out to me for the first time (or at least for the first time in awhile; either way, I know we’d never spoken before). We knew of each other but had never had a conversation. Thinking this person had a lead for me, I was happy to chat, but when we connected, I discovered that the conversation was more about this individual asking me to help promote a new networking group. While I’m happy to assist with requests like this, I couldn’t help but feel that this person’s timing and context of the original connection request weren’t quite appropriate. There was a network connection, but no relationship.

Building your network is important – I agree with this 100%. Many of my colleagues provide great advice and personal examples on how to quickly grow a network. However, there is so much more to getting value out of your network, and this requires the development of relationships within your network.

Benjamin Franklin has a great quote – one of my favorites – which states: “Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none.” Franklin’s observation could and should be applied to building relationships within your network: you should be willing to network with anyone (civil to all), actually connect with some (sociable to many), but develop relationships WITHIN that network (familiar with few).

It would be practically impossible to develop relationships with everyone in your network, if you’re building a massive one. My personal feeling is that the worst thing you could do is attempt to do so. By doing this, you will come across as being canned and shallow. For example: boilerplate invites on LinkedIn, or catch-all notes to your network informing of a career change or other major event. We’re all becoming more web-savvy, and we can smell an impersonal mass email from a mile away.

On my LinkedIn profile, I have at the bottom under Contact Settings a short paragraph that says,

“While I never want to discourage anyone from contacting me, I would GREATLY appreciate a personal message if you wish to connect; not one of the generic ‘recommended’ messages that LinkedIn provides. It tells me that you took the time not only to read my profile, but also that you feel a profound reason for our connection and not just a need to put another name on your networking list. Please personalize your request to me; I will be more inclined to connect with someone who has taken the time to do this! Thanks and happy networking!”

It amazes me how many connection requests I get from people who obviously never made it to the bottom of my profile to see this. That’s not building relationships.

So, how do you go beyond building your network to building lasting, and valuable, relationships? Here are four suggestions:

  • Personalize your correspondence. It takes more time, but it lets your connection know you specifically thought of them. If you have to, use an email program that will help you do this if you have large amounts of correspondence going out. Make sure you address people as they have requested (i.e. nickname, initials, etc.) and for Heaven’s sake, spell their name right. Having an uncommon first name myself, I get this all the time. It’s Amybeth, with a small “b”, and all one word, not Amy Beth.
  • Don’t automatically subscribe them to your newsletter. Goodness – when I make a new connection and all of a sudden I start receiving tons of newsletters from that person, I feel like I was just another number. Go with an opt-in as opposed to an opt-out approach. Otherwise you’re going to end up with a bad reputation. I provide a link to my blog, my RSS, and a way to email-subscribe to my blog in my email signature. That way, people have the option to check out what I’m doing if they want to, and they can choose to ignore it if they don’t.
  • Take your connection offline. The best way to build a relationship – professional or otherwise – is in person. Not through email, IM, text, or even phone. When possible, arrange to meet with new connections – host a networking meetup, grab a cup of coffee, attend a tweetup, etc.
  • Give before asking. This is tough, especially if you’ve started networking as a result of being laid off. But trust me – this will pay off in the end. Ask your new connections what you can do for them first. Chances are they will reciprocate after being asked.

A great example of personalized networking and relationship building is Jennifer McClure, a local HR blogger known as CincyRecruiter. In a conversation I had with her over dinner at iHOP one night (there’s a clue), she told me that she personally responds to everyone who emails her. While I realize that many of you don’t have the bandwidth to do this, know also that she really doesn’t either 🙂 But she still does it because she knows how valuable it is to build personal relationships within her network. I highly recommend connecting with her for more info on building relationships.

Zig Ziglar’s motto is: “You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” Just remember: your network is made up of human beings. Human beings want to feel special, and by building relationships with them, you can accomplish this and glean more value from your network at the same time. Otherwise, you’ve just got a random collection of nodes.


8 Comments so far
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Excellent blog and so true, networking needs to be personal and make that connect wtih some to foster to a great relationship.

Comment by Chernee Vitello

I fully agree with you. I see my network more as friends and spend a ton of offline time with them. While I am a freelance translator and not in your line of business, building relationships and networks is incredibly important to me — both on a personal and on a professional level. Giving first is good advice — I do that very frequently by mentoring colleagues, doing non-profit work, being available for questions, etc. I like your disclaimer on LinkedIn, BTW! Can’t remember if we are connected or not; I will check, but if I ask you to connect, I will say “Hi, it’s your friend Judy!”.

Comment by Judy Jenner

Well written piece. I don’t agree with you.

I’d say that I fall into your sociable category. So when I saw the other day that you said that TheRecruiterGuy is your new boss so I knew something was up but until I read this I didn’t know that you had lost your job.

What would have been wrong with including me on a mailing to the sociables telling us that you were in the market?

Same thing with LinkedIn. My goal there is not to build friendships. It’s to get more access to the database. So I’m happy when people send me formulaic invitations.

As for helping me? All of those automatic offers from people who don’t know me, turn me off because they seem so automatic and insincere.

Amy you and I have only spoken on my radio show. But I know you think you know me and I feel as if I know you. (We might not really but we feel we do). I think I know Jennifer McClure too and most of our exchanges are 140 characters or less.

Finally, I don’t think taking it offline is always necessary. Sometimes people call me up and I appreciate it but, out of the blue, I don’t know what to say in a new context.

As for meeting people in person, often the phone is better simply because the conversation is less demanding.

If you run out of conversation after fifteen minutes and you’re sitting over a table at dinner what started out nice can become awkward or tiresome. (But of course that wouldn’t happen at dinner with you).

Comment by Recruiting Animal

There is a difference between a social and a professional network, I use Facebook for my social network and I don’t add anyone to my network unless I personally know. However, I add anyone to my network on LinkedIn even if they sent impersonal messages to connect.

Comment by RM

[…] Amybeth added an interesting post on Building Networks vs. Building Relationships « Amybeth Hale …Here’s a small excerptIt tells me that you took the time not only to read my profile, but also that you feel a profound reason for our connection and not just a need to put another name on your networking list. Please personalize your request to me; … […]

Pingback by Internet Marketing Email » Blog Archive » Building Networks vs. Building Relationships « Amybeth Hale ...

Thanks for taking the time to share your advice and experiences on networking Amybeth – and thanks for including me as well! Effective networking isn’t easy – and many don’t apply the time necessary to determine who in their “network” is worth building a “relationship” with. That doesn’t mean that all contacts aren’t valuable as humans, it just means that sometimes it doesn’t make sense to either party to invest in developing a true “relationship”. And while I do try to respond to everyone who reaches out to me, I know that some are disappointed that they didn’t get the level of connection they were seeking (either a job, a lunch meeting, help with their resume, etc.) – and I’d venture that most who are disappointed are those who asked for something without taking the time to either get to know me or “give” first to determine if there is indeed a mutual benefit for us to connect. Like Recruiting Animal is saying (I think) – it’s possible to have some strong connections with people you haven’t met in person, but have built relationships with via social networks, but for me, the strongest relationships are those that have some level of in person interaction.

Comment by Jennifer McClure

Of course the girls are ganging up on me.

But, listen, my online friends sometimes ask me, “Do you think we’d hate eachother if I actually met you.”

And I say, “Yeah, probably”.

And they say, “I guess you’re right. These ten minute phone conversations with a quick hello and a quick goodbye, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Comment by Recruiting Animal

Hi Amy, I agree 100% with what you have said. I also see it as the difference between a “network” and a “community”. Community implies that the members are working to better each other and help each other out and have at least some altruism behind their efforts. “Networking” is about gathering and sharing somewhat relevant contact info. I prefer those who believe in the community model.

Comment by Kristen Fife

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