It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you hear your pal talking to you about the startup community that they’ve joined. Or, a friend’s comment on being a part of the group that discusses the happenings of the tech world. And, the umpteen connections on your acquaintance’s profile, while you just think about taking your legendary steps into what the world calls ‘networking.’ Seems like something you do, but a tad daunting? Never had and has to be like that!
In a product world where being a part of communities and building an amazing network of like-minded pals, what’s often missed out is the amount of work that goes into actual networking. Well, what happens behind the scenes is always given a miss and just the fructuous after-effects are embraced. This path is bifurcated—one side claiming the fanciness of networks but parochial to what it actually stands for, and the other side wanting to network with people but is always in motion with no action.
While there’s no dearth for any kind of product communities—be it management, marketing, design, or development—what people are increasingly forgetting is the etiquette behind making a connection; the purpose behind networking with someone; the arduous steps you put for every successful virtual relationship. With so much chaos around networking, it gets us wondering at times whether this is the next share dilution, diminishing in value. What we actually see as successful networking begins at a seed stage of ‘reaching out.’ And, to reach out, you need purpose. And for purpose, you need reflection. And, for reflection, you need to be willing to think beyond the horizon.
Sliding into direct messages, sending cold emails, or dropping in an unsolicited text are new norms of networking. Of course, this ain’t wrong, for virtual friendships in the tech and product space has given rise to endless potential and possibilities. But, are we mindful of the why-who-when part? Inappropriate, incomplete, and incredulous messages have taken a way into the social platforms. And, the most hurting truth is when one takes the liberty to expect networking in such a case. We as product people do know the Network Effect, but we seldom reflect on the real-time networking or the value obtained.
What looks like a successful webinar, community, crowdsourcing, or a podcast, is built on hours of personal research, timely preparations, clear messages, meaningful connections, and structural post-productions. With that said, networking no longer has to be a taken-for-granted system—maybe, when you keep the following three things in mind, for real networking all happens behind, much away from the social hush.
Your motivation to connect with someone and build a thoughtful network starts with outreach—should neither be aimless nor forced. What gets you to stand top is not just your intention to connect but the way you present it. Please wave a goodbye to random blasts and gimmick content. Here’s where your research comes handy—explore about the product domains, tech projects, and mutual connections that a person has before you may want to network with them. Talking and writing in third-person is no longer fancy, but distant; so keep your content direct with personal pronouns. At anytime, your message has to address:
◘ Who you are
◘ What your purpose is
◘ What’s the intention to network
◘ What action you expect
This is pretty much applicable even when you onboard new people into a community or when you join a network yourself—always look out for why you want to contribute. As the popular Nietzsche’s saying goes, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
The next in line is being trustworthy and authentic with your identity. So many networking attempts stop at greetings. Why? The least information gets conveyed, a poor identity is portrayed, and a still a response-back or networking is expected. As much as you intend to network with some person or an organization, building your identity matters. This could be in terms of the social media profiles, finding the right platform for outreach or even sending over additional contact or referencial details. In a discussion with Shuba Bhaskaran, Relationship Manager, LinkedIn Learning, she told me how identity plays an important role in seeking to network. She put forward how without credibility portrayed, in terms of your work or passion, it gets difficult to successfully network.
Once you’re a part of a network, sustaining this credibility is crucial. Openness and wanting to showcase your authenticity while you approach for work friendships, project collaborations, mentorship/sponsorship are much underrated skills.
And the most important of all—your “hey” and “hello” will never be answered when they remain solitary. Speak up, folks!
A network, especially from a business, and more specifically from a product standpoint is built on the give-and-take method—you read it right, it’s give before take.
This can mean that before setting up the connection, you give your reader:
◘ your thoughts and values
◘ appreciation of their involvement
◘ brevity and clarity
And, once you set up the connection and thrive in a network, you give:
◘ your passionate involvement
◘ unbiased opinions for improvement
◘ space for others’ growth
Once you ‘give’ there’s an automatic ‘take’ you’ll end up benefiting from—even before you rightfully claim. Where most of us go wrong is we expect the take to always appear dutifully even when there’s nothing enough to give.
When talking to Sarah Joyce Franklin, the EVP of Salesforce Platform Trailhead & Developer, she explained to me one of the prime thought-patterns and skills to develop while approaching someone for networking is—valuing the other person’s time, their futuristic efforts, and being very specific. This will ensure you not only put forward what you want but also make it meaningful and non-overwhelming.
The next time you think about meandering over, cut to the chase!
While the three points discussed here aren’t the rigid staircase to creating sustainable product circles and networks, they’ll definitely save you from falling into the wrong nimbus and ending up losing your purpose. For in a product world, the power of community and network lies in the sense of belonging, motive, and action.