I don’t have a network, I have friends.

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There are many fans of networking in my professional association, some more rabid than others. What I’ve noticed lately is that the most rabid fans of all tend to be the ones who you have to introduce yourself to year after year at conference because they can’t remember all the people they’ve met. I’m terrible with names, but usually when I see a person for the second time I have some inkling that we’ve met before. There’s some people I have to introduce myself to over and over and over, and I’m thinking their network isn’t very useful if they can’t remember the people in it at best, and if they actively insult people at worst.

I like to network, but mostly I approach the whole business with an eye towards making new friends. They don’t have to be the know-all-your-secrets type of friends, and I don’t need 500 BFFs, but I’d like a connection that goes slightly deeper than a handshake and a Linkedin request, and then a repeat of the same next year. I’d rather do that with fewer people, and build a high-quality network of friends, than try to amass contacts who I know nothing about. It seems to me that when you focus on the quality of your relationships, you’ll be able to leverage them better than when you focus on quantity. Sure, you might have 700 Linkedin connections, or 2,000 Twitter followers, but if you put out a call for help will any of them respond? Will you get a quality response from people you’ve learned enough about to trust? If you have a smaller network of friends, they’ll work a little bit harder for you when you need them to, and vice versa. If they’re the type of people who also make networks of friends, they’ll introduce you to those people more readily, and you’ll know you can count on those people too.

Some people in my professional association also have this little love affair going with Twitter. Many espouse it as a way to build your network, and I know it can be, but without actually meeting and speaking to each other in-person and forging some kind of deeper connection it’s all very superficial and shaky. I think Twitter has its uses and I also think it’s ridiculous, but even if I didn’t have that personal conflict I would know that it doesn’t come close to a chat over drinks. What I do like about Twitter is being able to get a small glimpse into the life of a person I have met or might meet at conference, and that can prompt a conversation leading to a deeper connection. But I’m not sold on Twitter as the best medium for this as people tend to keep things impersonal over there. And let’s not even talk about Linkedin, the most BORING and impersonal unsocial networking site ever. I know a lot of people have various problems with Facebook but I find it to be the ideal tool for building deeper connections. I would so much rather be Facebook friends with someone I just met at conference than have them follow me on Twitter. I always learn something about them on Facebook that makes me like them even more, and makes our connection stronger. The connections become more personal and more real. But then again, I have an exceptional group of quality Facebook friends. I add people who I meet, who I like, and who I remember.

I had no idea that networking is considered by some to be a bad thing, until somebody mentioned that to me at a conference several years ago. I bet its bad reputation comes from those rabid networkers, who abuse the whole idea of making connections. In my world, networking is so much fun that conference time doesn’t even feel like work time. (Don’t tell my boss). It isn’t rabid networking or Twitter that keeps me coming back to conference year after year even though I pay for most of my own travel expenses now. It’s my friends. And there’s always room for more.

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