…continued from part I
Al and I talked a lot about using social media tools in a thoughtful way. If you’ve ever used LinkedIn and received an invitation to be someone’s connection then you probably know the cookie-cutter text that comes along with it. It looks like this:
“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
– Taylor Crenshaw”
Not very personal. It doesn’t have to be impersonal though, you’re not stuck with that template. You can edit that to say whatever you want and you should. It shows that you took the time to bring up where and why you met and maybe even how that person might be able to help you get where you’re trying to go. Put the personal into your invitation. It’ll go a long way towards building that relationship by making the person feel more like a human being and less like a stepping stone. By making the invitation more personal, it also brings into play a rule I keep for myself when dealing with LinkedIn. Do not try to connect with someone you haven’t met in person.
But heads up, Millennials! Our work isn’t done as soon as we make that connection both in real life and on the Web. We’ve got to maintain those personal relationships. Al goes so far as to make about one hundred calls around the holidays to people that he is connected with. Now I know, we’re not used to putting a whole lot of effort into things and we want instant gratification, but I think Mr. Oak knows what he’s talking about. And it’s not about business all the time. However, you make these efforts to keep in touch with your connections, you might just be at the forefront of their mind when business comes up or they might mention something off-handedly that you’re interested in in the midst of your chit chat. But even then, you should appreciate what you’re doing for other reasons. “Hopefully you enjoy doing that (maintaining relationships) because you’re making someone happy,” Al said. So far we’ve learned that we have to become more patient in our general networking and more selfless when keeping up with our connections. Al also told me that he couldn’t come up with one relationship that didn’t yield some sort of benefit at one point or another. All the more reason to put the effort into these relationships that you’re building.
Even though he knows what he’s doing in the networking department, Al understands where the technology we Millennials so love (and depend on?) could come in handy. “That’s the advantage of something like LinkedIn. It’s easier to stay in touch with people.” As we are beginning our networking journeys, we should remember that. He did not say “it’s easier to connect with people,” but that it is easier to maintain those relationships and keep up with everyone. Social media should be used as a supplement to interact with people, not a crutch for gaining new “connections.” So go ahead, use LinkedIn and your favorite social media tools, but remember that they are just that, tools, supplements. Embrace the personal that is slowly becoming more and more uncomfortable for us and go for it. It truly cannot hurt when done in a thoughtful way.
And when it comes to maintaining relationships, another thing we need to remember is that even if there isn’t something obviously in it for us, we should still take responsibility for maintaining those relationships. While Al said that some of his connections keep up with him, he takes the responsibility of communicating upon himself. “I drive the train. I lead,” he said, not a trace of selfishness in his voice. He truly does not expect to get a business deal or partnership out of every conversation he has, but he knows that if he maintains these relationships people will be more apt to think of him when they are looking for someone in his industry. “You build trust and relationships by putting others interests and needs ahead of your own and being patient with your cause.” Patience, Millennials, patience.
As I wrapped up my time with Al, he reiterated to me what we Millennials need to do in order to get into networking as early as possible and it is quite simple. “Get a mentor, tell them what you want to do, and hold yourself accountable.” Easy enough, right? All we have to do is take a step outside our comfort zone and think more carefully about the impersonal ways we sometimes use our social media. But, remember, both parts of networking, traditional and social, are incredibly important and if managed correctly can lighten your load in maintaining your personal relationships and bringing forth opportunities that might not have been possible otherwise.