Jeff Pulver, a founder of Vonage and an Internet entrepreneur, had a passion for connecting that started at a very early age.
“Turning back the clock, when I was just nine my uncle took me to his office and showed me this little box with knobs. It was a moment that changed my life. He turned one of the knobs, said something cryptic, and then let go of the microphone. There was a roar of voices all waiting to talk. I was mesmerized. I was like— wow—my uncle had found the cure for loneliness. All I had to do was take the box, a ham radio, to my bedroom, and I’d have the solution.”
By age twelve, Jeff had taught himself Morse code, learned all the rules and regulations of being a ham radio operator, and was on his way to building what he described as “my first social network.”
Jeff was so enthralled with ham radio that he often spent 40 to 60 hours a week on the system while going to school. He was actively chatting with people around the globe through his teenage years, his twenties and beyond. “There were many people who were very meaningful that I never met; Sam in the Bronx, Joe from Boston, and people around the world. In the eighties there were even contests in the Soviet bloc to see who could talk to the most people in as many different countries as possible in a 40-eight-hour period.”
Thanks to Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and others, you don’t have to learn Morse code or buy a ham radio to connect with the world. We’ve entered a new era where shifting cultural values and improved technology enable us to network in vastly improved, more focused, and more enjoyable ways.
Technology has accelerated networking, reduced the degree of separation between contacts, amplified our global playing field, and redefined the job prospecting process. What’s more, with high speed Internet and lower cost hardware and software, you can connect with likeminded people from the comfort of your living room. Today, you can send the President a tweet while wrapped in plush cotton robe or message your childhood friends while sipping coffee. I’m a fan of offline and online connecting, but if you don’t want to leave your kitchen or have insomnia, below are seven ways to network without leaving your house.
1. Host a Virtual Hangout or chat. I met Tim McDonald, a Community Manager for the Huffington Post, when he asked me to his virtual CoffeeTime Chat that he hosts on Spreecast. Tim has hosted 50-four chats and meet “hundreds of interesting people.” One tip Tim shared, “ask each person to introduce you to two people. Be specific about the types of people you’d like to meet. If you want to meet artists or start-up executives, say that. Also, ask for two introductions rather than just ‘introductions.’
If you’re specific with the quantity, people are more likely to respond.” Other platforms that are useful for virtual connecting and conversations include Google Hangouts, Skype or Apple FaceTime.
2. Start a Facebook or LinkedIn group. Networking in virtual groups is another productive way to connect with people, with like-minded interests, from the comfort of your living room or kitchen. One group I belong to is a LinkedIn group hosted by a fellow known as @marketingchap. His identity is a mystery, but his focus is clear. He creates content and connects people in the marketing, social media and advertising communities. Chappy, as I refer to him, hosts a group on LinkedIn called Chapworking: For Chaps Who Network.
3. Make sincere connections with bloggers or likeminded connections. James Altucher recommends interviewing other bloggers on Google Hangout and downloanding the video to YouTube for discussion. For added reach, both parties can link to the video and Tweet, post or blog about the discussion. James also recommends spending authentic time having dialog, on social media, with people you’d like to connect with.
4. Host a Twitter chat or a live Q&A on a social media platform. I’ve seen several people, from bloggers to venture capitalists, tweet out, “I’m available for live Q&A now, send me your tweets and questions.” Jessica Northey, a country music social media enthusiast, has amassed over 550,000 followers in part due to a weekly live chat that she hosts on Monday nights on Twitter.
5. Be a content creator. Brit Morin, a modern day Martha Stewart, has built a fan base of over 2.5 million subscribers, offering advice on lifestyle products for women, since April 2011. I asked Brit the secret to her networking success and she said, “We publish about 4-5 stories a day on Brit Co., which translates to about 20-25 social media posts.” If you want to build a network of friends, fans and influencers, it’s important to not only share content, but also to communicate and connect.
Brit explained she uses different channels in different ways. She said, “Pinterest is where I get to hang out with my ladies all across America who are looking for great tips and tricks on recipes, fashion and crafts. My Twitter followers are much more tech-savvy and love hearing about apps, gadgets, and startup life.” She uses Google + to reach a wide international audience that “cares about affordability and ideas that seem common for Americans.” And on Facebook Brit said, “We tend to share a little something for everyone.”
6. Host a potluck, garden party, a game night or television-viewing event. If you don’t want to leave the house and your sick of virtual chats, invite guests to come to you. Try hosting events that are participatory or have a theme. For example, Ido Leffler, the Chief Carrot Lover and Co-Founder of Yes To Carrots, recently hosted a birthday party for his wife Ronit that included a drumming circle and drum lesson. Zem Joaquin hosts book-signings and networking events for local authors at her home. Focus your event around a theme or activity and networking and conversation should flow with ease.
7. Take a break from social media and connect the old fashion way. Call – don’t text – two or three friends you haven’t chatted with recently and say, “hello.” Or, sit down and write three hand-written letters to let people know you value them. There’s nothing better than receiving an unexpected hand-written note that has been thoughtfully crafted. It’s a great way to strengthen and maintain relationships in your network.
If these ideas seem overwhelming or foreign, don’t worry. Most likely, you are adapting to the digital and social evolution and you can thrive with a values-based, technology enhanced approach to networking.
The key to this approach is that connecting and networking should not feel like work; instead, it should be life enhancing, collaborative and ultimately bring you joy and greater prosperity. If you’d like to hear read about more ways to unlock the power of connections in the digital world, pick up my book Your Network Is Your Net Worth to hear the stories, tips and tricks from everyday heroes and top executives. In today’s global world, don’t let your social capital lay dormant. Get connected to find greater happiness and success.
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