I was at South by Southwest last week in Austin for the annual tech party. It was an absolute blast, and was the first time I've made it down there for the event. I know I know, I'm all late to the party.
What struck me though was the general feeling that there were a bunch of people just running around trying to meet as many people as they possibly could. Companies throwing parties with open bars to get as many people in as possible. People trying to get into the most happenings events. And everyone texting with someone they're going to meet up with, while talking to to the people they just met up with, after texting with them while they were talking with someone else.
The point for most people when it comes to networking seems to be to sell them on some product, or service, or to get them to use your web app, or to check out your super awesome API, or to raise money, or to find the next hot startup so you can give them money and then make a bunch of money.
But most people, it seems, are just trying to meet as many people as they possibly can.
I have come to believe that we'd all be a lot happier, and more successful, if we simply looked at business as the context through which we formed meaningful relationships. And from good relationships, good things in general tend to happen.
And while with this perspective, getting some form of help, or sale, or user, or funding, can't be the goal, I simply now understand and am aware that it is often a happy side effect. Let's look at some pictures to understand why.
This image above is how pretty much 99.9% of people network. They want to meet as many people as possible. Awesome, they think, I worked really hard and talked to a lot of people, and surely something good will happen. Problem is, they're also likely to be pretty weak connections.
How do I know this?
Easy. Ask yourself of these 30 connections, how many you would trust with your most important project, or client, or partner, or with your money?
They feel the same about you.
Now, let's look at another image. In this one, let's say someone made 3 really great connections, or truly strengthened existing connections. And, that these three people also did the same thing. These are people you didn't leave for the cool kids party. Or someone that sat and had coffee with you for an hour. Or someone who's web application you tried out, not because you had a web app problem that needed to be solved, but because you liked them personally and you wanted to see what they made.
In this image, I go only three levels deep. Do you know someone that can build my site? No, but I know Tom knows a guy. Three levels, that's it. And they trust each other, and vouch for each other, and they would put someone THEY NEVER MET on their project, or give them money, or recommend a client.
Why? Because their friend said they were good people. Done.
There are fewer direct connections, but the ones that do exist are strong, and, there are MORE people that you're connected with.
And we help our strong connections. Not because we expect anything in return, but because people usually like helping other people.
This isn't new, and this idea has been written about extensively as it relates to how companies leverage social media to reach new customers. The companies aren't selling, their customers sell on their behalf to their friends.
The irony though is that it seems the early adopters of social media are the very people that don't apply this lesson to themselves, and the way in which they network. They have so many "friends" that they can't possibly spend the time that's needed to actually curate their relationships.
Strength isn't in the number of our contacts, it's in the quality of our connections. Something to think about next time you're out networking trying to get someone to hear what you have to say.