The typical Facebook user has 342 Friends.
On LinkedIn, he (LinkedIn users are predominantly male) has 500 - 999 contacts, many of whom I not-so-affectionately refer to as ghosts. That is, they are people we vaguely remember without a clear recollection of how we met, what they like, and why we wanted to connect in the first place. So, what's the point?
In this deeply networked world, it's important to pay attention to how we connect and manage our networks. Here are three tips for sustaining more genuine relationships through networking.
1. Be Your Own Gatekeeper
The Gatekeeper is the circumspect, wise person who makes decisions about what or whom is granted access to your life. A good gatekeeper, like Gmail, catches most of the spam that people send me so my inbox is clean. A less effective gatekeeper, like an email service that shall remain unnamed, smothers the inbox with spam and frustrates the heck out of you.
We need to be our own LinkedIn and Facebook Gatekeepers by limiting the number of contacts we accept. My rule of thumb: Do not accept a connection request from anyone you're not personally connected to.
There are exceptions, of course. For example, if we're two of only ten people in the world doing a specific kind of work, yes, let’s connect even if we haven’t met yet. The same holds true if we're about to collaborate on a project. But otherwise, I need to really, truly know who you are to accept your invitation.
Some choose to be open networkers. I don't think this is a good idea for anyone except sales people and recruiters who actively use LinkedIn to generate leads. If you don't need to use LinkedIn to access many people you don't know, having an open network isn't worth the spam. (I expect to hear from a lot of people who disagree! Here's the other side of the story in case you're intrigued by open networking.)
When we have fewer connections, we're less overwhelmed and have more bandwidth for keeping the relationships real.
2. Keep It Real
How many email newsletters do you get each day? What percent of those email newsletters do you actually read? If you're anything like me, it's low. That's because email newsletters aren’t about connecting; they're about advertising.
Don't treat your network like an email marketing list. No advertising jargon, no pitches. Speak in your own voice with no ulterior motives. Eventually, yes, you may wish to talk with contacts about their interest in your products. But before you get there, be real. Be human. Care.
3. Keep It Up
Did you meet someone with great expertise on entering a new target market? Great. Has it been six years since you last talked? Problem.
You need to keep the connections active and reciprocal. Yes, it's hard. No, there aren't enough hours in the day. But think of it this way: If you go to two networking events each month, ditch one of those and use the two hours you've saved to keep up with existing contacts.
Don’t go to networking events? Try this technique: Next time you receive a newsletter about a new report, piece of research, tool, or event, ask yourself who would find it valuable. Then forward the mailing. These forwards will inevitably result in some conversation. It will help people remember who you are and communicate to contacts that you're thinking about them.
Don’t get any mass mailings? Share your secret!