Goal setting is embedded in my DNA. Because something deep inside me gets so much satisfaction from completing them, I have to be careful that the goals I set are not colossal wastes of time and energy.

Not long ago I gave myself the goal of quintupling the number of connections I have. Ultimately of course, my goal was to gain more clients, do more speaking engagements, produce my own events and also just get the information I have to share, out to more of the people who need it.

I started with about 2,000 connections and (geek that I am) set up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track on a monthly basis of the number of new connections I would gain across the various social networks.

As of September 2011 I am officially the proud owner of more than 10,000 social connections (actually as of this writing nearly 12,000). So as not to be disingenuous, I'll be more specific. That means that across the five social tools I actively use - LinkedIn, Facebook, my email list and Twitter, 10,000 of my closest friends’ multiple personalities are following my daily habits. As I started sharing this news with a few of those friends the questions you might expect came up. How did I do it? Is this number impressive or lame? What does this actually mean for my business and my career? And how the heck does one keep up with 10,000 connections across multiple networks in a way that isn't a full time job?

Since you all know I'm a wee bit of a data geek I though it would be helpful to provide some context around what my communication process looks like with that many connections going on.

I get:

> 1,000 emails per week
20 LinkedIn requests per week
30 Twitter followers per week
3 Facebook friends per week
20 messages per week on LinkedIn

These numbers all shift up significantly when I've published a new post or I've been featured somewhere like when I was named one of the top 11 people to follow on Twitter.

I also want to mention that over the years I've noticed lots of people using tools like TwitterAdder in order to rapidly gain followers. While this can be useful (large numbers by themselves can seem impressive) I made a conscious decision to grow my network "organically". Basically everyone in my network is someone I either personally know, or who I personally connected with out of a specific interest, or who requested a connection with me. I generally also disconnect with people who send me spam.

My thinking has been quality over quantity. I think this strategy has helped my click through rates on twitter and Facebook which are traditionally dismal to be higher than many people's even though my content is not generally for entertainment or shocking.

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How did I do it?

When I started my quest, I had about 2,000 connections. I was able to build an additional 8,000 connections in just 2 years. I strongly believe this is due to a couple of really big things that may unfortunately be hard to replicate, and then a lot of really small things that are actually quite easy for you to replicate - so easy in fact that sometimes people don't believe me.

Hard things to replicate:

  1. I speak. A LOT. In 2010 I spoke at nearly 100 events in a single year. If you do the math, that works out to an event every 3 days for a whole year. Over my career as an Internet Marketing consultant and speaker I estimate that I've spoken at or conducted more than 400 classes, events and workshops. I've met more than 5,000 people. When you look at it that way, having 10,000 connections may even seem small.

  2. Well, I write for Inc. That's one thing that it will be somewhat hard to replicate. But arguably Inc. just helped me to build my network a bit faster. I attribute about 40% of the new connections to this column either directly or indirectly through new subscribers, twitter followers, events I did for or through Inc. etc. There is no doubt in my mind that it really helps to have a highly visible platform for sharing information and news with people who want to hear from you (also read Blogging's Big Payoffs).

4 Easy things to replicate:

  1. Work your own blog - in every post I write (at least once I came up with the idea) you will always find 4 things
    • a link to share my content on Twitter
    • a link to follow me on Twitter
    • a link to join my email list
    • a link to connect with me on LinkedIn

  2. Work your email signature - while I don’t include every social link on the planet I do include a link to my LinkedIn profile, my Twitter feed and my Inc. column. It’s a great way to make sure people know what you’re doing without having to interrupt their day to tell them (although I do recommend that too).

  3. Work it in person - use a newsletter signup sheet if you’re speaking. Bring handouts with your social links on them and a reason to connect. Collect business cards and be sure to send those people an email inviting them to connect with you on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Consider inviting people from your professional organizations and have something to offer – provide a reason why they should connect with you (and not a “download my free whitepaper” reason, more of a “this is who I am and why I think connecting might be mutually beneficial” reason).

  4. Work the Press/Blogosphere – this is everything from getting yourself nominated for top 10 lists to exchanging articles on a new blog where you can pick up a new audience. You have to find ways to reach new people if you want to build an audience fast (then see items 1 and 3)!

These things may seem small but over the 24 months of this goal, I averaged just 300 new connections per month. That doesn’t seem like a huge number but it adds up. If you market consistently those small monthly numbers over time add up to big gains in the depth and breadth of your professional network.

I did begin the article with making sure the goals I set are not “colossal wastes of time,” yes?

Has it been completely worth it to have all these social connections? In order to save you some time, in the next post I’ll outline exactly how I LEVERAGE these 10,00012,000 connections and both what has and has not been worthwhile.

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