Thanks to social media, meeting new people and renewing old contacts has never been easier. But how often have you taken your online contacts into the real world to build mutually beneficial relationships that last? We call that being a superconnector. It's a skill that you should learn, because networking as you know it is dead.
Superconnectors know that you can't "like" and "share" your way to true social capital -- you earn it by building trust and by having conversations that lead to valuable interactions with the right people -- people who you'll be able to help and who will naturally want to help you. So how do you do that?
1. Know yourself.
Are you an extrovert who feels energized at big, crowded events, or an introvert who is emotionally drained in large groups? You may think that extroverts are natural superconnectors, but let's face it: extroverts can suck the air out of a room by dominating every conversation. Introverts may hang back, listening but rarely contributing. Both personality types must play to their strengths and learn from one another.
For instance, while I (Scott Gerber) am a classic extrovert, my co-founder at Community Company, Ryan Paugh, is much more of an introvert. Extroverts like me need to learn how to lead conversations without owning them. Introverts like Ryan are often more effective superconnectors when they operate in their comfort zones -- small groups and one-on-one relationships. For instance, at our annual ski retreat for entrepreneurs, he rides the chairlift with each member who attends. On the way up the mountain, he learns much more about each person than he would at our group gatherings.
2. Figure out what kind of connector you are.
Erica Dhawan, consultant and author of Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence, says there are three types of connectors: thinkers, enablers, and connection executors. Thinkers are rapid-fire idea generators; enablers bring people together to share ideas and thrive on introducing people; connection executors take other people's ideas and turn them into action.
Know what type of connector you are so you can be aware of strengths and weaknesses, and fill in the gaps accordingly. If you're a thinker, for instance, an executor will help you make your big ideas actionable. Can't find an executor? An enabler can probably make an introduction.
3. Pick your pond.
Every city, every company, and every industry is as big or as small you want it to be. You may feel comfortable navigating a big pond like New York or L.A., but you may benefit from making that big pond smaller. That could mean joining a local group for women in tech, connecting with other soloists through a co-working space, or reaching out to entrepreneurs with specific cultural backgrounds. And if there's not an existing group that resonates with you? Start one. It may be a simple online or offline group where like-minded people gather, or a more ambitious venture, like our own YEC, first founded to connect young entrepreneurs.
4. Perfect the art of asking questions.
Ever had a conversation and then walked away realizing that your companion didn't ask you a single question? Don't be that person. Both introverts and extroverts must learn how to ask the kinds of questions that elicit answers that in turn lead to more questions. Before you know it, you've peeled away the layers of the onion to reveal what matters most.
For instance, instead of "what do you do?" you might ask, "what do you like most about your job?" or "what are you working on that excites you most?" Dig deep; if you're not a naturally curious person, train yourself to be more inquisitive.
5. Be habitually generous.
There's a happy byproduct that comes from deep conversations: they often reveal needs that people will not explicitly state. And when you know what people need, you can be more deliberate about helping them. You may be able to introduce them to a potential investor, connect them to other entrepreneurs in similar industries, or help them find a new job.
Superconnectors are always looking for ways to help others, and not because they expect reciprocity. In fact, being viewed as a transactional player is the kiss of death for any aspiring superconnector. You may never get help from the people you help, and you should be okay with that. Far more important is establishing yourself as someone with an abundance of social capital. It's a subtle way of showing others that knowing you provides value. And that will come back to you, tenfold.