When the net works for networking
March 17, 2009 7 Comments
Few things capture that magical combination of dread and certainty like death and taxes, but networking is surely one of them. What seemed so easy as a kid – having a good time with people you’ve barely even met – becomes this uncomfortable, alien dance in adulthood. I can see it now – how much less awkward it would be if we were all sitting in a sandbox.
What are you building?
– A castle.
Can I help?
– Sure, if you want.
*Dig dig dig*
Some people are natural conversationalists and for them it is relatively painless. For others, striking up a conversation with a stranger is like pulling teeth – for both parties involved. The key is to make it not feel like networking, and it helps if they aren’t complete strangers.
A good solution, I’ve found, is on the internet. Social networking is not new, of course, but until last year I hadn’t fully appreciated the ability of the web to bring people together into real functioning communities de novo. I thought of social networking sites like Facebook as places to hang out with people you already knew and engage in utterly uninteresting banter. But then I found FriendFeed and with that I discovered that there are tons of clever, interesting people out there who get excited about the same things as I do, both professionally and otherwise. You follow their blogs, eavesdrop on intelligent discussions, and then slowly start contributing yourself. It’s all very civil like, and yet fun and exciting, like a sandbox for grown-ups.
In no time, I felt like I was part of a real community, and the best part is that it really is, well, real. As in flesh and blood real. As in, we’ve been flitting around on the intertubes for a while, but hey I’m going to be in such and such place next week, who’s around that wants to grab a coffee? And a couple people inevitably are from that area and they meet up in person, face to face. Or, who’s going to be at XYZ Conference? And a dozen or so people chime in, meet at the conference for the first time, and end up publishing a paper about it. Now that’s what I call highly effective networking!
And I feel like that’s how it should be. It shouldn’t feel forced or contrived. If it does, you probably won’t get anything out of it other than a business card, which, by the way, make excellent bookmarks. If you’re like me, and still have trouble with formal “networking” events even after 5 years of attending them and multiple seminars on “Networking for Introverts”, then communities like those on FriendFeed are a beacon of light. I get to know people at a more natural pace, and get legitimately excited about meeting them, and then I DO meet them in person eventually.
It’s the ‘net – and it’s working.