Networks are Two-Way Relationships

The transactional focus of recent business history has trained us to focus on clearly asking for what we want. Networks challenge us to create a mutually rewarding relationships.

“I tried to use the social network to solve my problem but it didn’t work”

I hear this comment often from people who are reluctant to use an enterprise social network, social media, community or other networked method of communication. My next step is to ask them to tell me the scenario. More often than not the individual who has a limited profile and limited following in a network has begun their relationship with a complex ask of others. Often they don’t participate often enough to reciprocate and help others with similar requests. That does’t work in personal relationships.  The only magic of networks that changes is scale.  Scale can make it harder to receive a response if you have no connections, voice or influence.

A network involves human relationships. People need to connect and share information to build a relationship with you. The reciprocity and trust that builds through this activity is the foundation of finding volunteers to solve a problem for you. The best requests for help are shared in deep relationships and with an understanding and respect for the benefits to the network of participation.

“I’d like to add you to my Linkedin network to use your networks for my issue”

A too small proportion of the Linkedin connection requests that I receive even acknowledge that the relationship might need to have value for me. If they are more than the automatic message, these requests are always crystal clear on how I can help them. I’ve even had requests from people saying that they want to connect because they do the work that I do and they want to build deeper relationships with potential clients in my city, i.e. my clients.

I’m not perfect on this one. There are times when I have been lazy and just hit the button to send the request, but that’s usually when the context of the request in a relationship is clear. However, I know that in those lazy cases I am running a risk of confusion (Apologies to all those that I confused.)

Relationships are reciprocal. We all want to know how we benefit too. The more remote in time, distance and shared interests the request the more I need an explanation. If you put the work on me to decide why we should be connected, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage in building the relationship. If your request is potentially detrimental to me, then I can’t see why you thought I would help. If I ask for clarification of the benefit to me and I never hear from you again then it is a terrible signal. I once had someone who got angry at me for asking for the benefits of making a connection. Their position was that the point of Linkedin was all about improving their networking. Not surprisingly we didn’t connect.

“Can you introduce me to your hard to reach contact”

Introductions are an art form. That means that they are also a risky proposition in the hands of those who don’t respect that they exist in webs of relationships. In a world of transparent networks, it can be an easy thing to ask for an introduction to a high profile and hard to reach contact. However, ease does not always translate into respect for the process or the elements that create success.

The best introductions take time. I need to understand your needs properly. I have been burned by people who didn’t know what they wanted from an introduction or had an ill-considered request. I need to confirm that the other person wants to receive the introduction which includes explaining why it benefits them. Some times I will have to wait to ask this request at the right time or in the right way. This deepens our relationship and sets up an effective relationship from the start of the introduction. Most importantly, I want to receive confirmation that the introduction is proceeding and feedback on the process. There is nothing more embarrassing than to follow up with a busy relationship and be told “That person you introduced never contacted me” and then ask the requestor and be told “Oh I changed my mind and don’t need them anymore”.

“Dear [Firstname], please help grow our business”

Just because you can reach me through modern communication networks doesn’t guarantee that I will value your communication. The more it is transparently generic marketing the message is the less effective it will be. Many electronic direct marketing messages are very poorly written with little regard for the audience. I am often surprised that people will send requests to promote their business without considering the rationale in a relationship. These requests are even more disconcerting when they are a generic form message.

Also respect the nature of contact details. A connection on Linkedin is not a subscription to your email list (It achieves nothing. I will unsubscribe immediately). My mobile phone number is not an invitation to send marketing SMS messages, which are more likely to cause damage because of the interruption.  Add my phone number to a calling program and you are in deep trouble. Permission marketing works better because it is founded on two-way relationships.

“Thanks for the follow. Please connect on Linkedin & Facebook as well. Download this free white paper too.”

Ask your friends and partners how much they would value automated messages in your relationship. You don’t automate messages in real life. Don’t do it in social networks.

“I’d like to get your thoughts over coffee on how I can do this”

The coffee coaching or consulting session is much discussed and there is little to add to the extensive discussion on the topic. I am always interested to catch up with people over coffee to learn about their lives and work and to build new relationships. I will be creative in looking for ways that our relationship will benefit us both. Please don’t ask to “pick my brain”. Take the time to consider my needs, convenience and time in your request. If I have to travel to your office, you offer a small inconvenient window of time, you don’t consider global timezones or you reschedule often, you are signalling your needs are more important than mine. That’s never good for a relationship.

I don’t give free consulting advice, mostly because it will be off the cuff and I will misunderstand your circumstances without investing more than 30 minutes. I have coaching and advisory services for short or recurrent advice situations. Personal advice depends on the depth of the relationship we have. So respect and seek to build our relationship. Frame the request with references to the benefits for both of us. We both know that a detailed plan or hours of follow-up will require the investment of proper budget to pay. If you do get advice that is valuable, take the time to give feedback on how the implementation of that advice worked. If I take the time to give advice, I would like to find out that it was a success and wasn’t ignored.

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