Social networking is often an important component of major life transitions, and is thus a topic I often cover with my life and career coaching clients. Just as Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter suggest that What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, the people who helped us get here may not be the same people who can help us get there.
Whether we’re embarking on a shift in careers, increasing our pool of friends, adapting to a new work assignment or geographic location, or seeking a romantic partner, social networking increases our odds of success. Others have knowledge, abilities, and connections that we may not have. They can help us to put our talents and gifts to good use in the world. However, we shouldn’t wait until we actually need social networks to start building them; it is a constant construction and maintenance process.
While much has been written about this, we’ll focus here two specific aspects: identifying some of the types of people to include in your social networks, and then utilizing your natural giving style to build social networks. It’s not about trading business cards or engaging in “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” behavior on a superficial level, but it’s about authentic giving in a way that energizes you.
First, what are some of the major “personality types” that play a key role in social networks?
In The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell identified three types of individuals that play a key role in the spreading of ideas through society, so that they hit a “tipping point” or spread like an epidemic. These same dynamics can apply to spreading information about yourself, whether you’re attempting to let people know that you’re seeking a certain type of career opportunity, a particular type of partner, and so on. These three types of people are as follows:
- Mavens: They have a great deal of knowledge and authority in a specific area, may command high levels of respect, and have a wealth of information that may lend great credibility to an idea or product. For example, if you’re seeking a job in rocket science but are relatively new to the field, it may not hurt to know an experienced rocket science expert who can serve as a reference and vouch for your own expertise in the area.
- Connectors: These people are essentially the networks of communication hubs, often linking groups that may not otherwise talk to each other much. They may seem to know everyone. If you’re seeking a romantic partner, and want someone who can introduce you to new potentials, get in touch with a connector. They’d love to talk to you!
- Salespeople: They have great influence and negotiation skills, and enjoy getting others to go along with their ideas. If you’re seeking to create a change that involves persuading one or more people to change their mind about something, you may wish to enlist the support of a salesperson.
So how do you go about building social networks that include some of these people? There are many ways to do this, but one effective way is to find out what others need, and then seek opportunities to add value in an enjoyable way that is most natural for you. (This may also involve saying “no” to opportunities that don’t feel as natural, so you have more time to give in the most energizing ways.)
In Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life, Stephen Post and Jill Neimark discuss 10 different ways in which people like to give. These include the following: celebration, generativity, forgiveness, courage and confrontation, humor, respect, compassion, loyalty, listening, and creativity. Here are just a few possibilities:
- We might provide generativity by mentoring someone else or nurturing them in a way that helps them to develop and grow.
- We can give humor by relating a funny story to someone who’s having a stressful day or not feeling well.
- We can offer celebration by sending someone a “happy birthday” note or giving them a call on a special occasion, brightening their day.
- We can provide both creativity and listening by brainstorming with someone on generating a few strategies for their new business.
You now know some of the major types of people to include in a social network, as well as some of the styles of giving that may help you to build your social network in an authentic and mutually beneficial way.
Also note that the types of social networking strategies you’ve applied in one context may also be applicable in another. For example, if you used a particular strategy to rapidly build a network of friends when you moved away from home to attend college, you might use some similar tactics to build a network of people in a new professional field into which you’d eventually like to transition.