NETWORK LIKE A VIRUS
“Networking? Why on earth do I want to do that?” you may be thinking. Well, the answer is, you’re already doing it. Human beings are social animals and much of our time is spent developing contacts and friendship groups. The powerful impact on us that these social groups have is brilliantly explained by Christakis and Fowler in their book “Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape our Lives”. Our social group has traditionally been where people find partners, jobs, cars, houses and of course our social life. The most successful people are embedded into their social group with many contacts and friends with access to their connections. According to Christakis and Fowler our social groups can impact our fitness levels, income and even happiness. When we want or need something we “put the word out” and if our circle is wide enough an answer or result will come back.
I have seen this work brilliantly with a client who was looking for a husband. She asked six of her friends (people in different networks) to set her up on a date with someone they felt she would be well matched to. Each date was to be two weeks apart with no follow up until all the dates had been accomplished. She carried it out as promised, fell in love with the first date, waited six months for a second date and they are now married.
In business of course word of mouth marketing is the most effective and cost effective marketing we can do. WOM begins with an excellent product or service. If we then encourage or incentivise our customers to “spread the word” we are already networking.
So Why Network like a Virus? We’ve all heard of viruses – those horrible infections that spread like wildfire. Yes, the after effects might be unpleasant but one can only admire their power to spread.
They infect a host cell which is then forced to produce thousands of identical copies of the original virus. And this is exactly what we want isn’t it? Thousands of mini me’s telling everyone all about how fab we are and how we need a new car/job or client ... The host cell represents the networking group and we’ll find out more about them later...
So let’s look a little more closely at the virus analogy. Viruses are made of two to three parts:
2. Protein Coat
3. And sometimes they have an envelope of protective fat for when they are not safely ensconced in the host cell.
Let’s start with the Genes – we all have our own genetic code and prefer to hang out with creatures of a similar type. So plant viruses hang out in plants, animal virus mostly hang out in animals with some cross between species. So, yes, we mostly prefer to be around human beings ... and more specifically ,human beings most like us ...
What about the Protein Coat? Well, viruses sometimes disguise themselves as host cells so that they are not rejected by the immune system of the host. We do this... We’ve all witnessed gangs of teenagers wanting to be different, all looking the same ... it’s no different in networking ... advertising executives dress very differently from legal executives. So the trick is to wear the clothes that will most have you fit into the group.
Ok, Jill, so what about the protective layer of fat? Hmmmmm?
Weight gain is an emotive subject. But if we were to summise that comfort eating occurs when we are unhappy that could well be the result of:
· if we are outside a social group or
· don’t feel comfortable any more with our social group
Perhaps then it’s time to look for a new social group that reflects our current needs and aspirations?
So, how do we find host cells where we can spread our word with lots of other people like us? Well start by thinking about all the things YOU like to do and then perhaps all the things you might like to do if you were very successful in your field– do they differ? Where might a potential wife or husband go for fun? – gyms, theatrical groups, toastmasters? Business networking is no different, what is critical is to hang out with the group you most want to become like or market to. Try a new group out at least three times to find out whether it is a good fit for you... ask lots of open questions of the existing members to find out more about them. I’ve been told by a networking Queen never to ask “What do you do?” but to try and come up with an interesting or relevant opening line
· “What else do you do for fun?”
· “Who are your favourite clients?” – this is great because it helps you to find out who/what they are looking for and therefore how you can help.
So what does the virus do to speed up the spreading process? We’ve all seen the posters encouraging us to “Catch it, bin it, kill it” to keep viruses from spreading.
Vectors : these are insects who carry plant viruses with them as they move from plant to plant: Don’t feel you have to be a bumble bee, pollinating as many promising flowers as possible. Better to plant yourself (sic) and really get to know people. The more you know about them, the more you will understand what they need and want and how you can help them or spread their virus! Vectors are people Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point” would describe as Mavens. These people are great to know because they are heavily networked and spread your message from one host group to another for you.
Touch: Humans carry infection from one to another by touch. In networking terms that’s meeting people face to face, listening and sharing our ideas and thoughts – spreading one by one people’s awareness of us and what we’re looking for.
Be prepared, know who is going to be there and who you most want to talk to. Sound a bit stalkerish? I agree, but there is nothing more annoying than getting home with your list of attendees and noticing a name on it that you have been chatting with online for months and would love to have met.
After the event, stay in touch ... some networkers talk about categorising people as No1 Top list, No 2 OK to stay in touch and No 3 Ditch list. However, I think of the Six Degrees of Separation: Whilst you may not see a connection with a person they may have a friend or business associate who fits your requirements exactly. Stay friendly, stay professional and stay in touch. Whether it’s a phone call to arrange coffee or add them on Facebook or LinkedIn or perhaps just put them on your newsletter or Christmas card list.
Air: some viruses are air bourn and are spread through coughs and sneezes, simultaneously spreading germs to several people at the same time. In networking then:
· “Spreading the word” could take the form of a 60” pitch formally delivered in front of an attentive audience or it could be a clear and concise couple of sentences which interestingly describes what you do and encourages curiosity.
· That could be us giving a speech at the networking group about something relevant and interesting to raise our profile.
· However, it could also be networking through social media – LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Posting an interesting article is fine to inform lots of people but it is the exchange of comments and ideas which will develop the relationships (and really infect them!)
Traces left behind: viruses are spread by germs being left lying around which other people then inadvertently touch and become infected by. In networking terms this could represent a swapped phone number, business cards exchanged or marketing material left around for people to pick up.
So now we can network on purpose ... let’s grab our hippy hats, go join the gang and ask to be introduced –It’s a great way to make friends, business contact and carry out random acts of kindness, we may even end up fitter, richer and happier!