What’s best about your business/social network, is that it is a living, breathing amalgamation of the energy of you and your connections as you move together through your careers and your lives. You can picture these contacts like constellations moving from company to company, location to location, sometimes shifting together as colleagues re-group at a new organization, sometimes spinning out to pursue new solo activities.

This network has been the backbone of my career success: pretty much every job I’ve got, has come through a personal connection in the form of an introduction or referral.

I’ve just discovered that an organization called Socilab offers a similar free mapping service if you allow them access to your LinkedIn network: http://socilab.com/#home. My map has significant clusters for my connections from Apple, Adobe, Macromedia, and those master connectors the PayPal mafia!  Smaller nodes map out connected expatriate friends, who, like me, have hopped from country to country. And then, one of the smallest but most intense areas of proximity, my Book Club.

This infographic has stayed in my mind’s eye as a symbolic snapshot of my career. I’m very grateful for this living network and in retrospect I think there are some good ideas to learn from my experience building it.

Be Strategic – Know What You Want

If and when people offer to help you, it’s important to know what you want, and be able to package your requests into simple ‘asks’. Make it easy and quick for people to help you, and most importantly do thank them afterwards and let them know what happened – it’s the most gratifying thing to learn when an introduction has borne fruit.

Find your People

As social animals, humans love to gather – and a shared interest or culture is one of the most relaxed ways to meet people. I met one of my closest friends at a Mac User Group in Singapore many years ago. We were fish out of water compared to the programmers but forged a fast friendship that still prevails. Think about all of your interests and experiences and see how you can plug back into some of them – for the joy of rediscovering that hobby as well as the fun of meeting those birds of a feather.

Listen and connect – wherever you are

Pretty much anywhere you go, but particularly if you are outside your normal places and routines, you are bound to meet people. Why not strike up a conversation? You’ll sense if someone doesn’t want to engage; but you’ll be pleasantly surprised how open most people are. At business networking events this is precisely why you are present, so take business cards and if you are with friends, please split up. You can swap notes later, but you’ll miss out if you are already joined at the hip with someone you already know. Conversational openers don’t have to be complicated, but I would also caution you not to try to ‘close’ the conversation too fast, or at all, on the first meeting. For now, just map out some general areas of mutual interest and have fun. You never know what you will learn from these conversations and how a mutual connection may serve you both in the future. Please don’t ignore those younger, older, or different from you – everyone has value.

The ‘Don’ts’ of Networking

A few years ago I was at a big advertising industry party in New Delhi. It was a noisy, dark, crowded space where business cards were pushed into recipient’s hands and any introductions could barely be heard above the din. I’ve been to events in the States where the introductions are more akin to speed dating and you leave not feeling like you had a single authentic conversation, it’s never good when you sense peoples’ eyes are grazing the room behind you.

What’s Next for LinkedIn?

Back in the world of online networking there’s also the risk that LinkedIn may have ‘jumped the shark’. I get requests to connect every day from people I have never spoken with and with whom I have little to nothing in common, and they offer no context or common ground. On that note it’s now a common sales tactic to invite a target to connect directly via LinkedIn rather than making an effort to take the time to build a relationship.

Now that LinkedIn has been bought by Microsoft, it’s going to be interesting to see whether it holds its dominant position or whether Facebook or some yet-to-be launched social network will supplant it.

My Network Today

In the meantime, I cherish and support my thriving, busy, inspiring network of colleagues and friends – we map our movements via LinkedIn, but connect and celebrate via Facebook. Some of the top connectors in my network are also my closest friends, they are the people I trust for a candid opinion and for honest feedback about my latest goals and projects. They are solid gold.

Let’s connect soon!