Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Networking Articles are "Uninformed and Unhelpful"

It's quite clear that most journalists don't understand the basics of networking practice. I don't blame them for that. Networking online is new, we do have access to many more people, but we don't have personal capacity to keep in memory and consciousness any more people than previously. Those of us who are deeply connected on Ryze, Linked In or Ecademy for instance, have not yet learned for ourselves how best to use this new ability to connect. It should not surprise us that people who are even less connected don't understand the process.

Journalists, particularly business journalists, assume you can determine in advance what you want to achieve by networking and can measure the cost performance of your involvement. They are wrong. Planning the precise outcome can't be done in any sensible way. Networking is a journey. You are going into unmapped territory. There are NO POSSIBLE MAPS of who you will meet and what will occur as a result.

Think about exploration in history. Tell me what explorers wanted to find in this unmapped territory that would make their exploration a success? They wanted a quick easy reward. The discovery of gold, oil, slaves, free land, virgin forests, new opportunity? In history when explorers have entered new territory, they often failed to find the "riches" they expected to find, and also completely failed to notice real wealth that existed in this unmapped territory that was beyond their original narrow vision. Settlers went to California to find gold and become wealthy. Most of them found poverty and many died. Those who became rich were not the gold miners. Nobody was thinking about grapes, wine, oranges or films. Nobody was thinking about the value of the climate and the beaches.

Joining a network is taking a journey into unmapped territory. A "friends" list is a rough sort of map that each of us makes of that territory. Joining networks is another way to make a rough map of what's there. But you can't beat living there for a couple of years to sort out which of the "friends" are people of substance, and which networks are sources of both good people and sound data. The discovery of one person who thinks well and who asks good questions is far more valuable as a long term resource than 1000 pages of public opinion. But to discover that person you will need to read a lot of "public opinion".

If you come to networking like Christopher Columbus, with "orders from the Queen of Spain", determined to establish yourself as the "Governor" and focused on becoming fabulously wealthy, you are likely to get a rather cold reception from the natives. Self engrandizement, elevator pitches, trying to make yourself out to be the "Governor" is the wrong response to the network environment.

In a network, in fact in all of life, nothing is more important that your ability to be accepted as a member. If you are a member, people listen to you. If you are a member you are given good data and help when you need it. If you are a member your rights as a member will be protected and respected by others. If you are a member you pay attention to what other "members" say and do and you respect and protect their rights as members.

So what do I mean by "membership"? There are at least two forms of membership. Let's think about Ryze membership. You join, when you subscribe to Ryze as a free member. . In one sense "you are a member of this network" but you are not a member to the "members", they don't know you yet. You become a member (in your own eyes) by subscribing to "networks" and reading the posts. But you are not a member to anyone else. You become a member to others when you occasionally respond to what someone else has written in a sensible way (so people feel that you have read the posts and in a way that "fits in".) and that shows knowledge of and respect for the "member" you responding to. When people read what you wrote, they choose, they choose either to accept you or to reject you. If they accept you, your posts will be read, and your opinion listened to. If they decide you didn't understand the group, or didn't show respect for a "member" you might get a lashing, but more likely you'll just get ignored. If they choose to ignore you, it's probably your own fault.

How do you succeed in a networking situation? Listen to what other people are saying. Respond to their needs and interests. Be supportive or other members, and you might become a "member" yourself.

In my experience the journalists who write about networking don't seem to understand the simple social rules that apply to all networks. When a network member introduces his "elevator pitch" to make sure he "stands out from the crowd" he poisons the place where he's trying to become accepted. The "members" will reject him. It's the same online as it is offline. Offline, people are less likely to make silly social mistakes. Online you see new people commit social errors all the time. In this sense, the vast numbers of people who sit silently on networks might be doing the right thing. At least if they are reading the posts, before posting themselves, that is a wise way to behave.

Sadly on Ryze 70%+ of all members join no networks at all. Even those who do spend little time reading the posts. They learn nothing, because they do nothing. On Ryze 50% of the members have fewer than 3 friends because they make no effort to find out who the other people are on the network. On Ryze lots of people create a page that ADVERTISES some product or one's skills and interests, that is connected to zero networks and one friend. That page won't be visited, and it it is, 97% of the people who go there can't leave a message. People don't understand what to do.

On LinkedIn another network I know well, a huge number of people have only one contact, or a small group of people link to each other in a small disconnected cluster. I have not done the numbers, but I expect the pattern we see on Ryze is repeated. People prepare a Homepage for others to view, but they never bother to read the homepages of other members. People usually have one connection, but very few make the effort to build their links to other people they know.

I trust this view introduces some ideas we can discuss. Like how to give newbies to social networks a better idea of what they need to do, and how we can help the silent majorities on all our networks to be more involved.

John Stephen Veitch
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