Networking, openness and vulnerability

Networking group Networking

Look for groups who are NOT “closed” to additional participants Image credit:

Most people in business welcome and, to some extent, enjoy networking. There are the oft-quoted urban myths, of course, that many of us fear walking into a room full of strangers or would rather climb Everest than talk in front of an audience. The truth is that we often do these things and, while some are better than others at public speaking and emotional intelligence, they are part and parcel of running any sort of a business, particularly in business-to-business settings.

Most of us make continuous efforts to improve at these skills. For those who feel they are forever about to make a faux pas in a public gathering, psychologists have made a discovery that should bring some comfort. The “pratfall effect”, first popularised by Harvard University psychologist Elliot Aronson, shows that displays of weakness and fallibility make us more likeable, providing your core competence is not involved. If you do admit a weakness, you need to have already established a general level of competence.

Aronson’s experiment showed that while successful people who admitted a weakness became more appealing, those who were perceived as incompetent beforehand became less appealing.

Making conversation

One of the hardest parts of networking is entering the room and knowing where to start. One gambit is to head for the drinks table, where many conversations start quite naturally. An alternative is to scan the room and observe the body language of those already present. Groups of people in a tight huddle will be difficult to engage but, if you see two people more casually arranged, it should be more straightforward to strike up a conversation.

Not every conversation is crucial. A few light-hearted remarks can help get you in the right frame of mind and make the event more productive. As you start to enjoy yourself, your brain releases dopamine – the motivator – and serotonin, the happy chemical. Others will then enjoy your company more because you have relaxed and are patently enjoying their company.

“ARE” mnemonic: anchor, reveal and encourage

Paul Russell, co-founder of training company Luxury Academy, teaches a three-pronged approach to networking called ARE, which stands for anchor, reveal and encourage. Find common ground with someone (anchor), reveal something about yourself and then encourage others to talk. Everyone’s favourite subject is themselves.

I was quite shy in my early twenties and was quite nervous about public speaking, social and networking events. However, as an Army Officer, I was forced to confront my anxieties until I became relatively desensitised to my acute self-awareness and emerged as a confident speaker and participant at social gatherings. Though introverts will always feel some trepidation at networking meetings, practice will help them perform better.

You can’t change your personality but you can change your behaviour and your reactions to a given situation. If you are very nervous about networking, the best thing you can do is to do more of it.

Make your aim at an event helping others and making connections. Humans are social animals and we often act together for mutual benefit, even with our competitors. If someone helps us, we feel honour-bound to repay the favour.

Be prepared to admit that you don’t know everything and be open to revealing shortcomings, especially if it implies a strength.

Practise active listening. Showing interest in others makes them feel good and enables us to learn. If you can offer anyone any small gesture of help or information, note it on their business card and follow-up swiftly before their memory of you fades.

ORS (Open, Random, Supportive)

Thomas Power founded one of the first social networks for businesses in 1998, called It built a sizable number of users in the UK and was a forerunner to LinkedIn, which was purchased by Microsoft for $28 billion. I made many online and offline contacts through Ecademy which I retain to this day.

Power developed a concept called ORS and the shift that organisations and businesses must make to achieve success online using social media. ORS was a useful concept in recognising the shift from institutional thinking to network thinking online. The shift from institutional thinking to network thinking is marked by the shift from Closed, Selective, Controlling thinking (CSC) to Open, Random, Supportive thinking (ORS).

He observed that organisations operate in a closed, selective and controlling way when directors focus on corporate governance. In institutions, you need to operate discreetly to protect the organisation, be selective about how you communicate and work to a command-and-control model. This is driven by the demands of public policy, shareholders, staff and the law. It’s institutional thinking, or CSC.

On the other hand, ORS thinking is natural for outward-facing activity – sales, marketing, networking offline and online. New ways of behaving in business are a major contribution to disrupting current business models around the world and generating ideas for start-ups. ORS is about being open and accepting everything that comes at us, randomly, unpredictably and serendipitous, and supportive of everyone in your network.

As social beings, we all know the benefits of having a good network of friends and acquaintances. Interestingly, studies have shown the benefits to be more powerful in our secondary networks than those closest to us. That new job offer or business opportunity is more likely to come from a friend-of-a-friend than one of your direct contacts, for example. Of course, being more open can make us feel more vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is often perceived as weakness (particularly in the boardroom). Yet it is this vulnerability that could be a strength. Through vulnerability, people can see us for who we are and begin to trust us. As TED speaker Brené Brown says: “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage… The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you it’s courage. In me it’s weakness.”

The fear we have of taking an ORS approach is that people will confirm the idea which we may have about ourselves that we are somehow not worthy of connecting with, a fear that we are not loveable. It might seem easier to protect ourselves by being closed, selective and controlling.

The CEO that admits to the failings of their business publicly and sets out how they will change to try and prevent these things occurring again is the one we trust over those that try and cover or hide their mistakes. There are business leaders that support new start-ups and celebrities that talk openly to random fans directly on Twitter. The truth is, in the new world of social media and big data we are already exposed before the world whether we like it or not. We can no longer hide, even if we want to.

The companies that aren’t afraid to make mistakes, ask for feedback, listen to us (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant our questions) are the ones that are thriving and growing. These are the businesses we all want to buy from. These are the companies that millennials are drawn to.

In describing yourself, less is more

It’s an old cliché but, often, less really is more. When we describe our businesses in sixty seconds, the most common mistake we make is cramming in too much information. I do it myself and then curse inwardly.

We’re worried about  failing to mention ‘key’ information. Yet we live in an information age, where we are bombarded with stuff we have to remember. And that means we have to be much more selective about the information we take on board and retain. The more you give me to remember, the more I have to forget.

In his book ‘To Sell is Human‘, Daniel Pink discusses the six alternatives to the outdated ‘elevator pitch’. One is the one-word pitch.

Networking group

Keep your introduction concise and attract more attention [Image courtesy]

The idea is based on a ‘one-word-equity’ concept developed by advertising legend Maurice Saatchi. According to Pink, Saatchi “argues that a world populated with digital natives has intensified the battle for attention in ways no one has fully comprehended. Attention spans aren’t merely shrinking, they’re disappearing. And the only way to be heard is to push brevity to its breaking point.”

Pink then quotes Saatchi, “In this model, companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind. When anybody thinks of you, they utter that word. When anybody utters that word, they think of you.”

In his book, Pink illustrates the point by asking which technology company you think of when you hear the word ‘search’ or which credit card company springs to mind when you hear the word ‘priceless’.

Taking our sixty seconds down to one word is a big ask for anyone with a modest enterprise. But how about a phrase? Or one memorable sentence? In a networking group I am a member of, a woman who has founded a SOHO non-profit, business accommodation booking agency, sends all her cash surplus to a charity that cares for homeless Ethiopian children. All she says is: “Book your requirements through me and save the world.”

The aim of a short introduction is not to sell your services. It is to pique interest, to stimulate further follow-up and set up a one-to-one meeting when you can describe your enterprise in more depth. Keep it short, really short, and you will not be short of people wanting to know more.

The idea of the one-word-pitch I owe to Andy Lopata, whose website, Connecting is not enough, is one of the best networking resources I know.

Don’t spam your LinkedIn Connections

Don’t Spam Your LinkedIn Connections | The Anti-Social Media.

I’m pretty open to connecting with people on LinkedIn because connecting on LinkedIn is the best way to stalk someone. In fact, I typically will connect with anyone who requests to connect with me, so long as they don’t seem like a complete sociopath.

But people have begun to abuse my willingness to connect.

These people who I’ve been connected with for months and years have suddenly decided that it’s OK to use LinkedIn to send me weird pitches. Instead of using it to cultivate a relationship, they just decide to  send me a demo of weird tool I’ll never use. I also get messages that assume I know everything about my connection’s lives, because I’m stalking every single moment of their existence.


Best statement on Google+ aims I have seen

Christian Oestlian, Lead in Social Advertising at Google, recently gave a talk at AdTech New York where he said:

Christian Oestlian, Lead in Social Advertising at Google

Christian Oestlian, Lead in Social Advertising at Google

“We don’t think of Google+ in terms of what other people are doing today. Certainly, there’s that feature-race, where we want to make sure we have enough products featured in and around Google+ to make it interesting. But for us, even if there was no social service out there today, we would want to implement this strategy.

Google+ is about transforming your relationship with Google. The number of people going to Google on a daily basis rivals virtually all other properties out there. If we can take that experience more social, interesting and personalized, that’s something we want to do no matter who else is engaged in the same space.”

Add a little online cheer over the festive period

Leave a comment on a friend’s blog or Digg or StumbleUpon it

Identity systems have made commenting on blogs a little harder than it used to be but it’s still relatively simple. Offer a relevant comment or reaction. It’s a gift thats reciprocal because it links back to your own blog or website.

If you can’t think of a comment, share it through Digg or StumbleUpon.

Like, or comment on, a Facebook status

We often take Facebook Comments for granted but use any spare time over Christmas to show appreciation of your Friends by being generous in your Comments, Likes and praise. Costs virtually nothing.

Thank tweeps for an @ response on Twitter

How many @ responses do we barely acknowledge? Go out of your way to thank someone commenting on your tweets by giving them extra exposure to your Followers. Extol and praise them.

Instead of writing “according to one blogger” write, “according to Jeremy Dent’s excellent SocialMediaCompass blog.” Praise publicly and freely. Correct privately!

And have a great Christmas yourself!

Social media: a marketing dilemma for the micro-enterprise

Social media are now mainstream. They are a pervasive part of nearly everyone’s everyday life, providing, of course, you have access to a PC and smartphone.

For a micro-enterprise, the dilemma is this. The moment has passed when it is simply a question of using, or not using, social media. Nearly every solo entrepreneur is already on at least one social media site like Facebook or LinkedIn: they’d be crazy not to be.

The primary decision is purely a marketing issue: there is a substantial difference between involvement in social media and social media marketing.

Smallholder selling lemons

Would social media marketing be relevant to this drinks stall?

Marketing is used to identify customers, to retain customers and to satisfy customers. It is also about being crystal clear about who these potential customers are and exactly how your product or service will satisfy them, beyond expectation. So, as a micro-enterprise, you should ask yourself the same question about using any tool in marketing: will my community of potential customers actually use social media? They might not.

If the answer is no, then use social media for other business functions like advice, sharing ideas, making useful contacts and administration.  If yes, then get ready to face up to all the possibilities, good and bad, presented by regular and immediate online communication with prospects and customers.

Your marketing strategy should include a digital marketing plan which should consider tools like a website/blog (which are increasingly combined), email marketing, social media marketing and content production. It will include marketing communications (identifying and retaining customers) and customer service (satisfying customers).

I have met small businesses which flourish without using social media marketing but rarely come across a business where social media hasn’t been relevant at all. We are all human and most of us are hypersocial. Social media gives us a reach and interactive capability which would have been unimaginable even five years ago. I have come across people that find the technology, etiquette and emphasis on ‘social’ quite challenging.

As a micro-enterprise, you can adapt and change and learn quickly. Your flexibility is your strength. Larger businesses are struggling with the transparency, openness and honesty that social media demands. You could even build social media into your product or service and become what has been called the hyper-social organisation*. And really differentiate yourself.

*The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media; Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran; McGraw-Hill Professional

We’ve been hypersocial for a while

Suddenly there seems to be a bandwagon around social media and its tipping point has been reached, the latecomers declare. The worst thing about being late into a momentous trend is to display your ignorance by assuming that your arrival heralds the tipping point.

Responsys declares that “social networks are now a true marketing channel”. This is ironic coming from what was, essentially, an email marketing company, not so long ago. The phrase ‘true marketing’ rings totally untrue in the world of social media where the basis of communication is determined by consumers and not corporations.

Responsys advertisement

Display advertisement from Responsys

But all to the good. Social media is certainly all-pervasive and how most of us consume the Internet. We link to people rather than sites, the social rather factual. We are hypersocial beings, most of us anyway, and we need to group ourselves around interests, discussions and (occasionally) brands. The hyper-social organisation is even being studied academically.

Could hypersocial be defined as ‘one who manages their social network identity, often via frequent updating of status, at the expense of real, human relationships’. And what of the hyposocial? Are you hyposocial if you have a drink with some mates, turn your smartphone off and consume some ‘old media’ like England’s World Cup campaign?

The Urban Dictionary defines it thus: “To possess a distinct lack of social skills. From the Latin prefix -hypo, meaning ‘Less than normal.’ [Greek prefix, actually, but let’s not quibble]. It is a descriptive word used to define individuals who display qualities that are against social norms, ie not bathing, use of inappropriate subject matter with peers or co-workers, distinct anti-pop culture attitude and dress. Can be shortened to simply ‘Hypo’.”

Most of us are electronically hypersocial and corporates are still trying to come to terms with a world in which they have to match the pervasive, transparent and exposed nature of social media. Marketing is becoming what it always should have been: listening, absorbing and understanding before communicating.

Social media? You really need a reason to get stuck in?

Recently, I have been involved in a number of debates about the usefulness of social media in business. I was slightly taken aback that the business value of social media even needed debating. However, many people are simply immersed in their everyday business and personal challenges and have not had the time to consider or explore these issues.

This short article is to get you started in the ‘why’ social media is so important to future business success. I am not going to pound you with statistics: they now overwhelmingly point to majorities of people being online and involved in social media, even if we need to remember the digital disenfranchised and many businesses that operate perfectly well without any online presence.

Social tools, networks and media have enabled customers to do what they’ve always wanted to do — be heard and to have the power to turn their ideas into ways to make the products and services they love even better. These tools are also allowing them to reach more people like them, with common interests and information needs, creating powerful communities not possible only a few short years ago.

So, if you are in business, and can afford to ignore your customers, and potential customers, clustering online and willing to help you deliver them what they want, then you are missing a huge opportunity.

That’s why the best advice about social media, customer service, or anything other business initiative has always been to master the basics before proceeding to the more advanced topics.
Social media will still be here next year (and even the year after). Take the time to first address any serious issues or problems within your customer service organisation before pushing ahead into social media. And if you really can’t wait and feel compelled to jump right into social media while revamping your customer service organisation in parallel, at least start small and stay focused.
Choose a particular channel — whether it be Twitter, a discussion forum, or an online user group — and put enough resources and effort behind it to make it work. Put in the time. Engage with customers. Show people that you are serious and that you plan to stick around for the long term. If you respect your customers — and the community — they will likely both respect you back.
And that’s a pretty good start. If resources, in terms of people, are either scarce and you can’t find an in-house social media champion, think of hiring an agency. In a future post, I’ll give you some tips about choosing one. Or find a guru like me who has not only been immersed in this stuff for a while and already made all those classic mistakes and learned from them!

What a company develops from venturing into social media marketing is social capital. There are sound economic reasons for the importance of social capital. Oliver Williamson won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009 for his work on transaction costs. One element of his research found that trust reduces transaction costs — in other words, if you’re doing business with someone you know, the cost of doing it decreases.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The manifesto that started us thinking about being connected

Remember The Cluetrain Manifesto? It was a set of 95 theses organised and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what was suggested as a newly-connected marketplace, as far back as 1999. The ideas put forward within the Manifesto aimed to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organisations.

In addition, as both consumers and organisations are able to utilise the Internet to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the Manifesto suggested that the changes that will be required from organisations as they respond to the new marketplace environment.

Here is a summary, in their words: “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

“Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humourless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

“But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about ‘listening to customers’. They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”

So social media marketing barely needs an ROI, as the current demand is phrased. You just need to decide whether you want to be in business in five years or not. Ignore the sea slowly being sucked away from you and the social media tsunami will catch you unprepared.

When should we jump into the latest social media tool?

The savvy e-marketer asks: “Will the tool help me reach and open a dialogue with customers and prospects more effectively and efficiently than my current toolset?”

If there is a more effective way to use your marketing resources, then use it. As far as Web 2.0 goes, take some simple advice: find out where your customers are online and what social media they are using.

Do new social media tools mean that email marketing is dead? A great advantage of email is its ubiquity: everyone has an email address. It is the world’s social network.

Email is still growing but that’s not the critical point. What is critical is that the email audience and user habits evolve, especially under the accelerating influence of Web 2.0 technologies.

All these new tools and technologies, like email itself, are conduits for content, not an end in themselves. It is not enough to email. It is not enough to Twitter. It is not enough to blog. It is not enough to have a Facebook page.

What you say, what you send, what you communicate still has to have value. In that sense nothing has changed since the day they printed the first newspaper. This isn’t a medium for just selling the sizzle; you have to be the steak at the same time.

Only invest in channels used by your audience where you know you can provide that quality and value that earns you the necessary attention and response. Each tool or channel has its own nuances and subtleties. The customers using your Web feeds might have a different focus and response to those preferring email; or Twitter; or those reading your Facebook page.

Email reinforces social network marketing

Given the popularity of the social network environment in B2B marketing, where the LinkedIn audience has more than doubled in the past year and even Facebook has become a de facto business network, B2B marketers are reconsidering the social network environment*.

What does this mean for email marketers? Does communication through social network channels make well-planned email marketing campaigns redundant?

Definitely not!

House lists still contain considerable marketing equity and, while social networks may play a part in attracting audiences, email is essentially a retention marketing channel. Once attraction through networking  is converted into a sales cycle, well-planned email messages help prospects through the sales pipeline.

Existing customers may well see brands in a new light through social networking effort but, ultimately, it will be quality email communication that will maximise retention.

*  According to eMarketer Reports