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What Is Networking?

by David Brock on July 24th, 2019

In the “old days,” networking seemed to be about meeting people, learning about them, building a bit of a relationship. There was value in networking.

Often, our networking may have been a passing meeting, a chance to get to know someone for a few moments, have an interesting conversation, only to move on in our separate directions. Sometimes, it led to something more substantive, perhaps some follow up conversations, perhaps a deeper relationship. Sometimes, perhaps at the most crass level, it provided a context or reference point to being able to “sell them something.”

We’ve all experience “networking,” where the narcissist, I mean, individual, talks all about themselves. We grimace, smile, look to escape and move to a different conversation. There are also those that meet and immediately talk about what they sell, not knowing whether it is even relevant, but their ideal of “getting to know you,” is pitching their product.

Our social networks show the same patterns. They used to be a place to, virtually, get to know each other, exchange a few messages, perhaps move on. With some, the relationship got a little deeper, ultimately moving to phone conversations, and sometimes to actual F2F meetings.

Today’s social networking appears to be simply list building.

Somehow, I appear on many of LinkedIn’s “connect recommendations.” I get between 30-50 invitations a day. It’s interesting, though very tedious, to dissect these invitations.

  1. 99% of the invitations I get are from people who have never looked at my LinkedIn profile.
  2. I look at each person’s profile trying to determine if I should accept. My first screen is, “Is this a real person, or a false profile.” Yesterday, I received an invitation from someone who had graduated from the Harvard Business school with a BSEE. I sent my friend, Charlie Green, an HBS alumnus a note, “Charlie, is he a classmate 😉 “
  3. I’m astounded by a lot of the profiles. I have a very rich network, mostly driven by inbound requests, but I see people brand new to the workforce with 20, 30K connections. They’ve published nothing, they’ve not engaged in conversations, they’ve not even liked anything (LinkedIn shows everyone’s activity.) Yet they have 20,-30K connections. Hmmmm, looks like list building to me.
  4. I’ve learned, there is at least one LinkedIn training company that puts together lists of people that should be added to their student’s connections. Apparently, I have the misfortune of being on some of those lists.
  5. For those invitations I accept, I always send a thank you, good to meet you note.
  6. 80% of those notes, get no response. Even when LinkedIn makes it so easy to respond–you can select one of several pre-programmed answers, from a thumbs up to a “It’s my pleasure.” I used to muse, “I thought they wanted to ‘network,’ but they don’t want to communicate. What’s up?”
  7. Separately, 90% of those invitations that I do accept still don’t look at my profile, at least in the day or two after I accept their invitation and send my thank you. I have noticed many of those connections harvest my email from my profile, mysteriously, my email inbox is flooded with Spam.

Then there are the endless sales pitches. Either through InMail, embedded in the invitation, or those that respond to my thank you note. Here’s the exchange with someone today:

“Dominick:  Thanks for the invitation. It’s good to meet electronically. Regards, Dave”

Today: Dominick [XXX} sent the following message at 7:10 AM
“[Note the absence of personalization, like “Dave.”] I would love to learn more about your world. Networking is very important. Let’s talk to see how we can help each other. Please use this link www.calendly.com/ [Oh, it’s my job to set the meeting] to schedule a convenient time. It will provide a meeting request and conference call link.”

David Brock sent the following messages at 7:25 AM
“Dominick:  Probably the best way to learn about my world is:   1.  Take a look at my profile.  It doesn’t appear that you have done that, at least in the past 90 days. 2.  Read some of the content I post on LinkedIn.  There’s something there every day.   Since you haven’t done this yet, I suspect  a call will focus more about learning about your world (I have visited your profile) and what you would like to sell me. Thx, Dave”

(In fairness, Dominick actually did respond, eventually. He claimed not to want to sell me anything, just wanted to get to know me better. He still hasn’t looked at my profile. So much for “learning more about my world…..”)

“Dominick” clearly has no interest in getting to know me. Networking is “important” to him, but apparently his concept of networking doesn’t include the simplest ways of getting to know me.

Silly me, my concept of networking is so old school. It turns the new world of networking has nothing to do with building relationships and getting to know someone. Networking is no linger about building relationships, it’s simply a synonym for list building.

I guess I’m just a dinosaur. I actually like meeting people, getting to know them, getting them to know me, and finding out how we might learn from each other. I do miss the old school version of networking.

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