As someone with an interest in both business / marketing & graphic design / the arts, how you approach networking both in real life & online? Networking can often be very shallow, where people use one another to advance & solely promote themselves. On the other hand, it can also be a means of building relationships with those you respect & supporting each others endeavors. So, how do you do it?
Actively networking for a personal gain can veer into the tacky side of human relations if not handled tactfully, so I’ve found over time that being genuine and open with who you are and what you are seeking is the best approach. Networking in an organic, honest manner lets people see the real you behind the screen.
Social networking online revolves around people who share common interests and activities (or who like to simply explore those of others). Wikipedia has gathered an exhaustive list of all of the major social networking sites (many which I’ve never heard of)!
Just because you’re online doesn’t mean you should lose your manners and inhibitions! Spamming your entire friends list on Myspace with cheesy solicitations and a nonstop barrage of bulletins probably won’t reap many responses. On the other hand, if you actively seek out someone with similar interests and write a personalized introduction and pay them a compliment, your results are bound to grow exponentially.
I first experimented with networking seven years ago when I started a blog on Live Journal. It was more fun and innocent back then because there was no need to actively network. Friends of friends would discover new people with common interests and recommend them to one another. Just by putting myself out there, I made some friends for life. Nowadays, it seems like all I receive on sites like Myspace are badly designed ads and solicitations for ringtones (needless to say, I avoid it like the plague these days).
If you do social network on some of these popular sites, try to develop a standardized look through an introduction and similar user images. By making it easy for users to connect the dots as they navigate through multiple platforms, it’s much more likely that they’ll remember you.
Networking for Personal Gain
There’s nothing wrong with networking beyond a friendship level, but you should be upfront about it. On occasion, I’ve handed my business card and stickers out at clubs to people but it was usually because I knew that they were looking for a designer, I wanted them to contact me later, or it just felt right. Being selective and feeling out the situation first is always a good idea. Otherwise, people get annoyedf and throw everything in the garbage!
The golden rule with networking is to always offer something in return if someone is going out of their way to help you. That way, it’s a win-win situation. Do something to let them know that they’re appreciated. Send a personalized postcard, take them out for dinner, write a thank you note, or offer to write a testimonial. It doesn’t necessarily take money to show your gratitude.
Over at Anywired, Mark Hayward rattles off the five things he did wrong when contacting a person for personal gain:
1. The email was too long
When asking for a favor, keep your request short and sweet. This way, you’re more likely to get an immediate response. Otherwise, your email may quickly sink to the bottom of the page until the recipient has time to deal with it.
2. He hit the send button too quickly
If you are looking for help or a contribution for a project, consider sending the person a link to it instead; make things as painless as possible and give your email some serious thought; once you hit send, there are no take backs!
3. He did not clearly define his goals for the interaction
Maybe the request makes perfect sense in your mind, but that doesn’t mean that the person on the other end will understand your lingo or huge, rambling paragraphs. Short, concise sentences and some bullet points can help.
4. He didn’t offer anything in return
You can’t expect something for nothing.
5. He didn’t know when to call in a middleman or mediator
If you don’t know someone very well but have a common acquaintance that is closer to them than yourself, think about calling in a favor. Chances are that they’ll be more receptive if they have a pre-introduction from someone they trust.
Additional Networking Resources:
1. D.I.Y. PR: Don’t hire an ad agency, learn how to yourself!
2. What Google can teach us about self image is oddly inspiring.
3. Passive marketing for freelancers offers up tips on how to make money without working so hard!
4. The top art and design bloggers tell you exactly what they’re looking for when you want to get your stuff published online. Learn from the best!
In closing, there’s no tried and true secret to social networking; if you provide solid content that is valuable to others in some way (amazing artwork, photos and articles are a few examples), your popularity should naturally gain momentum.
*Thanks to Bianca Alexis for the photos!