A lot of people are concerned with the idea that “getting to know people” and “marketing” are completely at odds. Especially introverts. And let’s face it, a lot of us who make a living online are introverted. There’s the odd extrovert, but they tend to wilt and lose their leaves, like an over-watered Boston fern (it’s not pretty. Take my word for it.)
I’m not saying you should go out and make bosom friends with everyone you meet online. I personally can’t handle the responsibility of true friendship with more than a tiny handful of people, and I’m not looking to increase that number.
But there’s a lot of ground between your help-hide-a-body friends and business acquaintances. Here’s how to sow that ground.
Have you ever noticed in the movies when they want to show you that someone is a nice guy, they show a bunch of little interactions with people the character has no reason to be nice to. He wishes the barista good morning by name. He thanks the taxi driver. He calls the doorman by name and asks him about his kids.
The online world is a strange and topsy-turvy place. When you go on someone’s podcast, you are almost invariably introduced as a friend, even if you’ve only had a few brief (but cordial) interactions. I think this is the result of social media– we know so much more about each other now.
And with that level of intimacy, it feels extremely cold to merely refer to anyone as a colleague. It’s like damning them with faint praise. You’re not saying anything bad. But it raises the question of why you didn’t say anything good.
This leads to a certain feeling of two-facedness. My clients ask me about it all the time.
“Everyone tells me to make friends online. That it’s good networking. But I don’t really want more friends. I have friends. And if those people disappeared off-line tomorrow, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to go looking for them. So how can they really be my friends? Plus, networking just seems really icky. Everyone is just looking to use each other.”
All excellent points.
So I will address them, one by one.
Defining “Networking” and “Friends”
Probably by now, everyone has either been to or heard the horror stories of a traditional networking event.
You know, a poorly lit banquet room at the Holiday Inn, where people aggressively thrust business cards at each other while scanning the room for the next person to make contact with. Most networking events I’ve been to are not so bad. But they are unproductive, since no one is there for no particular reason other than they know they should “do more networking,” so people just mill around and ask each other what they do for a living. It’s good for practicing the 10-second short form of “what you do,” but other than that, it’s a wasted evening.
And what about this concept of friends? You know, “the family you choose?” The people who are willing to help you move house and/or a body?
In the context of an online community, “friends” is a catch-all term for people you’ve had more than a handful of interactions with. But often they don’t behave like “friends” in the sense that we know them off-line. They won’t ask you about the results of your doctor’s visits, or swing by to help you paint the living room. In the off-line world, the people with whom you interact have other relational definitions. We introduce them as “neighbors,” or explain that “we’re in the same kick-boxing class,” or “Jane is one of the hockey moms.” We know people in a myriad of contexts, and we know that they usually do not rank as friends in the offline sense of the term.
But online, where we lack the offline relational markers, you can replace the term friend with “friendly with.”
In other words, you don’t have a whole bunch of friends on social media. You have maybe a few friends, and whole bunch of people you are friendly with.
Friendly with is like going to a small school and knowing the names of 90% of your classmates. You’re not friends, but you’re friendly with them, enough that you’d have no problem asking to borrow a pencil or maybe to form a study group. Friendly with is knowing that your favorite barista has a band that plays gigs most weekends. Friendly with is asking your movie-doorman how his wife and kids are doing.
Friendly with is purely situational, but it’s applicable in a lot more situations than “friends with” is. When Leo Babauta agrees to be on your podcast, you might say you’re friendly with him– you are probably not friends with him.
As you interact more and more, you’ll get closer to something that could reasonably be called friendship– but of course you can’t start there.
And THAT’s the problem most people have with networking. They find it artificial to claim friendship with someone you only know (or want to know) for professional purposes. For whatever reason, introverts have a lot more of a problem with this than extroverts, probably because extroverts have a looser definition of friendship anyway. But introverts hold to a very precise definition of friendship, and that’s why they feel so squicky when it comes to “making friends and influencing people.”
So every time a client says that they “know they should network more,” I tell them not to make friends, but to be “friendly with” more people. It’s not objectionable to take an interest in others and pay attention to the things they are doing. It only feels objectionable if you set out to do it with an attitude of quid pro quo. So then, don’t.
Do it because there’s a million people out there who are cool and interesting and who do cool and interesting things, and you’re going to pay attention to them for that reason. You’re doing it out of enthusiasm, curiosity, and entertainment. When you interact with them, you’re doing it as much to stimulate your own psyche as to fan-girl all over someone who is awesome.
When you do that, the networking bit pretty much performs itself.