Whether you’re an individual or part of a brand, when it comes to business, it’s the conversations we have that make the difference, not how many acquaintances we have or the size of our contact list. Let’s say you are an individual who likes to attend networking functions. Does a desk drawer full of business cards do you any good? Nope. You can collect business cards all day long, but unless after meeting you connect on social channels, pick up the phone and call someone, or reach out to connect with them in another way—those cards are just a dust gatherers, nothing more.

The same goes for your social connections.   LinkedIn is a perfect example. Having a personal profile with a zillion LinkedIn connections means the same thing as having a desk full of business cards.   Unless you actually build relationships with the people in your network, you just have a collection of names. How many of your connections do you actually interact with on a regular basis? How many are acquaintances? How many are total strangers? Do you have a strategy for reaching out to build relationships with strangers and acquaintances?

Make Networking Work

Social has been called “networking on steroids,” but it only works if you do the “work” of “networking.” That requires a strategy and a time investment. Make deepening your LinkedIn relationships an activity you work on every day (or at least on a regular basis). Block the time out in your calendar and just do it.

The same goes for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—who cares how many followers or friends you’ve accumulated—how many real conversations have you instigated? How many people check your posts in some way every day? Whatever platforms you’re using, figure out the tools for expanding your network and put them to use. Make comments, ask questions, find common ground and invite further conversation. Connect with people on multiple platforms—put them in lists—listen to their conversations and add value where appropriate. Do the networking work.

Get People Together

Building relationships is only half the job, however. It’s what you do with the  relationships that’s going to give you the most return.  Whether you’re an individual or a brand, people power becomes most evident when there’s a common goal or interest.

Let’s take employees for example. Most companies have some type of new hire onboarding that emphasizes getting to know employees as individuals, but getting them connected to each other for support and collaboration is even more important. Are your employees connected via social networks? That’s a first step. You can use social tools like Facebook or LinkedIn Groups to foster conversation around a particular topic, product, service or interest. Google Hangouts are another way to connect your employees and drive conversation and collaborative thinking.

As digital technology evolves, I believe the mandatory face-to-face meetings that tie up hours of employee group time and kill productivity will become a thing of the past (or at least have less emphasis). Brainstorming and other creative activities will take place over social channels.  Social connection to a community, especially in today’s mobile environment, is a powerful way to keep people in touch wherever they are. At those times when an idea strikes, employees can quickly reach out to start conversations—ask questions and ping ideas off one another much more efficiently.

Yes, networking and community building is work–whether you do it in person or on social channels. However, it’s well worth the effort, because building relationships touches every aspect of our personal and business lives–and so does not building them. If you want more experience and more value from connections and acquaintances, you’ve got to do something with them!

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