Professional Networking: 4 Basic Techniques


1. How to Make Friends with Everybody

Remember in middle school, how everybody tended make friends with a group of people to whom they were very loyal, and formed exclusive cliques with their own internal rules and roles? Most people never stop behaving this way. Some say it’s a genetic inheritance from our primate ancestors, who lived in tribal communities. While our society is not fundamentally tribal any longer, our psychological makeup still largely is. An indispensable component of tribal communities is hierarchy, and always at the top of hierarchy there is a chief. This is why, in the social and professional communities of the modern world, there is often a person or entity who makes the rules about who is allowed in the circle and who isn’t.

But each circle has different strengths and weaknesses, and just like in natural ecosystems where you generally find the most dynamism and complexity on the edge between two different subsystems, the most interesting place to be in the social world is at the intersection of different communities that might otherwise be siloed. Connecting isolated communities creates value in the modern world because the currency of our informationalist society is network connectivity, and this value accrues to both communities that take part in the connection. Thus, being the person who creates synergy between communities and consequently accrues value to them, merits support for you from those communities.

So, how do you connect communities? The precise nature of interaction between communities is as varied as their combinations, but they all have one small exhaust port that can targeted: the chief. To gain access to a community, determine who the chief is, and make friends with them. Your status as a friend will trickle down into the community, rather than having to climb up, which is a more sluggish process. Then, once you have become friends with the chief of multiple communities, you can begin to act as a liaison between them, becoming a more valuable member of each community each time you become more connected.

In summary, practice being the flexible, independent person who can flow freely between different communities without the fear of not being accepted. Go directly to the leadership of these communities, and make clear to them the unique value of your relationship to the leadership of other communities – of your ability to connect them to the network.

2. How to Influence Influential People

Have you ever felt like what needed to happen was for you to be able to make an important, influential person aware of your insight or concern? To just sit down and have a brief, rational conversation with someone wealthy, powerful, or well connected enough to make a difference? Well so has everyone else. Probably, this really is what needs to happen. But it’s not easy to do, if for no other reason than that there is a very long line of people in front of you waiting to do just that, most of them with more money, power, or influence you. In the rare case that you get this person’s ear, you’ll have to make quite an impression for it to stick, since they get no shortage of these propositions.

A smarter approach would be to meet this person’s needs, rather than trying to convince them to meet yours. What I mean is, enable this person to discover your perspective when they are looking for answers, and are open to new ideas. This will set you apart from nearly everyone else in the crowd. Nearly. Who won’t this set you apart from? Just the people you want to be with – the people that your person goes to for information – the people they consider “thought leaders”.

“Thought leaders” are those people who are the authoritative experts currently on the vanguard of thought and research in niche fields of study and practice. The people you want to gain access to are not thought leaders; they are influential because they connect thought leaders with interested masses in an accessible way (creating value per method 1 above). Their power comes from being capable of making that connection due to their ability to understand dense niche sources and communicate them effectively to the masses.

So, if you want to influence these people, you have to influence their thought leaders – the people from whom they already voluntarily seek out information and perspective.

There is a critical difference that plays to your advantage when taking this route, which is key to it’s superiority: thought leaders are too niche, or else to dense or obscure, to be accessible to the masses. Therefore they are not inundated with proposals for communication and will be more accepting of your invitation to network, which will allow to make your insight or concern known to them. If it is pertinent to this thought leader, they will communicate it from their channels, which your target person frequents and appreciates, and you will have incepted the idea in your target person’s mind indirectly, and with relative ease.

3. How to Gain Entry Into a Community of Successful People

You know that supremely frustrating feeling – you’re energetic, you’re smart, you’re persistent… and your stuck. Stuck with a head full of good ideas and a list of failed or failing projects. Projects that didn’t get sufficient capital, or the right talent, or the necessary recognition. Your’re fired up but your feel like hot rod spinning your wheels on a muddy road.

Sometimes you need to stop externalizing your problems and find the solution within yourself. But sometimes projects fail, not because they are bad ideas or because you didn’t try damn hard, but because you’re not working in a socially advantageous community. You don’t know the right people, with the needed resources and the good connections;  the people with indefatigable motivation and brilliant vision; the people who are as excellent at what they do as your are; and you therefore are not taking advantage of the synergy that comes from that – the synergy that is essential to real success. You need to leave your sleepy hometown, or that group of friends or professionals you’ve outgrown, or that stifling job that pays just enough to neutralize your ambition.

Sometimes our network simply doesn’t connect with sufficient integrity to other networks that would contain the kinds of people we need to be with – and working our way into these networks from the fringes can be extremely time consuming. What is needed is to gain access to the very core of the community you want to be a part of.

But how? The key to success is service.

First imagine the ambitious, hard working, risk taking, judicious, informed person you want to be. Then identify a person in the real world who is manifesting those qualities and succeeding in the way that you want to succeed. Seek this person out and tell them that you are energetic, smart, and persistent, but that you are suffocating in your environment; that you see qualities in them which you appreciate, and want to learn from and emulate, in order to replicate their success; and lastly that you are willing to be totally at their service and do anything they need you to do, in exchange for no compensation other than that they act as your mentor and teach you everything they know.

Not everyone will say yes. Not everyone needs or wants a right-hand man. But for some, this is a great value proposition – not only is it free labor, but if feels good to be respected. For your part, you may find yourself working twice as hard as before, needing to make ends meet while also serving your mentor’s needs. However, in exchange, you will gain entree directly into the core of the community which demonstrably most shares your view of success and is effectively working to achieve it, enabling you to learn from and synergize with them, and maximizing your potential.

4. How to Start a Buzz with No Advertising Budget

Do you have a product or service that is so good that word of mouth alone is the only marketing you need? Good, that’s the only product worth having. But this process isn’t always fast, and you may find you need to accelerate it to meet your goals. One method for fast tracking word of mouth is what I call “chatter hacking”.

First, identify your target market. Who does your product serve? Since people tend to coalesce into subgroups (see method 1) you will find that your target market tends to comprise multiple smaller communities, each having their own distinct characteristics. For example, if your product is for programmers, you will find that the community of programmers using one language behaves differently online in message boards,  Q&A sites, etc, than does another community.

The critical difference you are looking for is how “chatty” these different communities are. So next, identify which of these communities has the most voluminous and energetic conversation among themselves. Which community is likely to talk the most about your product with each other once they are aware of it? Hone in on this community and direct your marketing efforts towards it, because they will give you the best cost/benefit ratio of any marketing efforts. Once their army of vocal, opinionated members starts talking, word will spread to other communities with an exponentially increasing outreach that you could not replicate by addressing each community directly.

The best way to reach your “chatter source” is to go straight for the top. Identify who the leaders of this community are. These are the people with the most power to shape the discourse of the community. Depending on the size and importance of the community, these people may be more or less accessible. If they are hard to reach, you might want to play the long game, employ method 2 above, and seek out their thought leaders. Otherwise, address them directly, and if your idea sticks, they will spread it to their community for you, further exponentiating the efficiency of your effort.

It’s the 80/20 rule in action. 20% of the people you advertise to will spread the word to 80% of your end customers. To leverage this fact smartly, make sure you spend most of your effort on the right 20% of people, so you’re not wasting 80% of your effort.


By | 2017-07-15T15:14:02+00:00 January 14th, 2016|Uncategorized|