You might not think that an American revolutionary war hero and a legendary music producer would have much in common, but both Paul Revere and Quincy Jones understood the value of social networks.
Paul Revere and William Dawes were both sent to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British army were coming. Both men were from a similar economic and social background, yet it is Revere who raised the militia and later had a poem written about him. A Harvard Business Review article suggests the reason behind Revere being remembered and Dawes being largely forgotten is due to the type of social network each man had developed.
I recently watched an interesting BBC4 documentary on legendary music producer, Quincy Jones. Jones produced the biggest selling album of all time (Michael Jackson’s, Thriller) along with the second biggest selling single of all time (We Are the World). As Lionel Ritchie explains in this clip, part of Jones’ success was due to ability to connect people together, “…there’s a giant address book you see him on the phone and he’s just calling and he knows just who to call to get that done…” [3:22 in the clip]
Building your network is more than just pressing a button to add someone on a social network site and while the benefits might not be immediate, the Harvard Business Review article identifies three valuable advantages to working to build a strong social network. These are:
- Access to private information
- Access to diverse skill sets
Decisions are based on both private and public information, but as access to information becomes easier, the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage from that data diminishes. Networks offer access to private sources, but, because this information isn’t easily verified by external sources it relies on the people in the network recognising the long-term value in the relationships they build instead of looking at how to exploit members of the network for short-term gains.
“The foundation of cooperation is not really trust, but the durability of the relationship”, explains Dr Axelrod in, “The Evolution of Cooperation”. Providing individuals in a network know they will be dealing with each other at some point in the future, there is little to gain from exploiting anybody in the network. Dr Axelrod gives the example of how members in a diamond market work together successfully as they know they’ll be dealing with each other in the future.
“Diamond markets, for example, are famous for the way their members exchange millions of dollars worth of goods with only a verbal pledge and a handshake. The key factor is that the participants know they will be dealing with each other again and again. Therefore any attempt to exploit the situation will simply not pay.”
It’s possible to exploit any network for your own gain, but it is a short-sighted solution. Building any network takes time and effort and the rewards are not always instant.
Building and developing a personal network also means that you have access to a wider range of skill sets. You might be a great writer but terrible at design. By developing your social network you have the opportunity to connect with people you might be able to help and who might be able to return the favour.
The Harvard Business Review article makes the point that if you’re introducing yourself to more than 65% of the people in your network then you’re likely to connect with people who are too similar to you. The article suggests joining groups where you have shared goals. Although each person might have very different personalities, having a common interest to work towards will open up a wider network to you. For example, you could join a charity, committee, project that you’re passionate about.
How can you be valuable in your network?
In order to get anything out of a network you have to give first. So just how can you be valuable to your network?
Offer to help
If you offer to help people you’ll eventually be rewarded. The important thing to remember is that building a network takes time and effort. You could promote a worthy cause, offer your services to someone for free or just offer your time to listen to people.
Most major religions follow the Golden Rule, which basically means, “treat others as you would like to be treated”. If most major religions can agree on this concept then it indicates that this idea can cross cultural divides and whoever you interact with in the world they will probably appreciate this.
There are lots of ways to be useful. You can connect people to useful information. This could be as simple as linking to an article or recommending a book. You could also connect people together from your network. If you know somebody is looking for a designer and you have a designer friend, then you could recommend those people work together.
There are lots of articles that focus on how to increase your RSS and email subscribers, but the number of RSS subscribers or Twitter followers you have aren’t important unless you have developed a relationship with those people. It might be that you’ve provided useful information on your website or you’ve answered people’s questions via comments, emails and platforms, such as, Twitter or Plurk, but being helpful is the best way to build any network.
Quincy Jones’ spent a lifetime building his own network, eventually working with jazz legends and up-and-coming hip-hop artists on the same album. The documentary mentions how he could never turn down working with old friends and because he always tried to help out the people in his network they responded whenever he needed help on his own albums. Darren Rowse of Problogger.com explains how he built his network before he needed it and as a result, was able to launch his book to 6000 people on Twitter.
“When I began to interact on Twitter I had no plans to use it as a medium for book promotion – however when launch day came I had 6000 people just a 140 character message away.”
A Myspace/Youtube/Twitter (or similar) “friend bot” will be able to “friend” thousands of people per day. By the end of the week you could potentially have a larger network than the 6000 people Darren Rowse had at the time of his book launch, but will any of those people actually care about what you have to say?
If there isn’t a connection on some level then it’s likely that people will ignore your message. It isn’t a race to see who gets the most friends, you just need to provide some value to the network that you do have, however big or small.
Much of this information many of you will already do instinctively, but we thought it was a useful primer for anybody who is looking to build their network and without it being specific to any particular site. This article on the essentials of networking also provides some very useful tips.
In the spirit of this article, each month for the next 4 months we’ll be highlighting 25 sites which we think might be of interest to anyone reading this site. We already have a number of sites in mind, but if you’d like us to consider your site then you can either email or leave a comment below.
What advice would you give to anybody wanting to build their network? Leave your opinions in the comment section below.
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