As the digital age changes, so does the process of professional networking. Opportunities to build your community are growing along with the changes at an equal rate. But what is the difference between a network and a community? While it’s true that somewhere around 85% of jobs are filled through networking, people are increasingly seeking not only to make connections, but to make more meaningful ones. So how do you get there?
A network is a system of interconnected people. You might, for example, know your neighbor who knows someone who can fix your water heater. This is an example of a network connecting you to someone you need. In the case of jobs and employment, expanding your network can mean more opportunities. However, in a network, it is likely that one side has more interest in the relationship than the other. This relationship could be strengthened if both parties showed interest in the connection. When a group of people are mutually interested in the relationship, they have formed a community.
Know Yourself First
When building a community, it is important to have some self-awareness. Find out what types of community-building work best for you – for instance, are you introverted or extraverted? Understanding yourself will determine more effective ways of building relationships, and will affect whether you invite others to a dinner party or for one-on-one coffee dates. Knowing yourself will, in turn, enable you to get to know others, and begin to build stronger relationships with them.
Shift Your Mindset to Building a Community
Rather than making your goal merely to make a connection that benefits you, instead look for ways in which you can add value to others. Remember, networking happens when you want someone; community happens when someone wants you, too. Pay attention to what sparks their interest while you engage, rather than simply focusing on spouting facts at your audience. Ask open-ended questions that require a response, then take the time to respond to their comments. Really listening and learning from your community is the only way to build true connections.
Technology and Community
Technology and social media can be great tools you can use to amplify and further your community, but they should not be mistaken as being communities, themselves. Vanity metrics, such as likes and shares, can wrongly give the impression that you’ve built something of value, even if you haven’t.
Where possible, look for ways to engage on personal levels, demonstrating empathy and strengthening ties. Building relationships gently over time, by commenting and listening to responses, will go a long way in finding like-minded companies and individuals to connect with on social media. When utilizing social media platforms, keep reminded of your goals and intentions as you seek to build your network and community.
Decide What You Are Trying to Accomplish
Whether building your network or community, it is important to ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to build a portfolio of clients? Are you merely looking for a larger number of contacts? Do you hope that someone you meet will lead you to that one “big break” in your career?
You need to flesh out what you are looking for in your professional goals, and how the way you network is either helping or hindering that effort. Take some time to evaluate your intentions, then take these tips into practice as you begin to better invest in valuable connections and real relationships.