The Value of Networks

neworkPurchase a plane ticket and fly to a new city for the first time. Take a cab to the heart of the city and then realize you’re hungry for a bite to eat. Open your laptop and steal wifi, trying to find a restaurant, and realize you’ve left your laptop power cord at home, and will need to find a replacement. Get a call on your cell from your aunt saying that she needs to buy a new digital camera, and which one should she get, because she’s standing in Best Buy right now. See a new email come in from your boss stating that you’re fired.

Your Network: The Old Days

In the way old days, your network was your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, and a few scattered others. You lived reasonably close to some number of these people, and they knew your comings and goings as intimately as a Facebook news stream. These people knew you when you were a foolish kid, and knew that you weren’t very good at math, but that you were a hard worker. If you needed help with something, you could reach out by mail, by phone, by “asking around.” It took a while, but usually someone could find something.

Your Network: The New Days

Several of your “friends” aren’t that. They’re more “friendlies.” They agree to be part of your network. You can reach more people than ever before. They’re all over the world. They have different roles, different networks of their own. It’s exponential the difference in the combined sum of what these people know. They might not know you the way a cousin or Junior High School teacher would say they know you, but they are willing to do some level of information sharing with you.

What Do I Mean By Network?

The idea of a network is just that it’s a connection of things that form something larger in sum. Networked computers mean that you can access some resources back and forth and communicate. Social networks (in the software sense) mean that the software makes a connectivity between users. Networks in the human sense mean that we have chosen to align ourselves in some form or fashion around common beliefs, goals, values, etc.

Organized religion works on the power of networks. So do labor unions. So do governments. Business is ultimately about networks of one kind or another.

What Can A Network Do?

Networks are about sharing resources. It’s the same for computers, social networks, human networks, and pretty much all kinds. Thus, if you’re looking to build a good network of people, sharing has to be the common link. Networks can help someone raise money quickly. They can direct lots of attention at the same point. They can help someone find a job. They can elect government officials. They can shift power and resources seamlessly.

Not a Numbers Game, Or Is It?

I think some of the value of a network comes from its numbers.

In social networks, I’m fortunate to have a reasonably good number of “friends.” Partly, this is because I’ve been fortunate to attend a lot of conferences, and I’ve been diligent in meeting lots of people. Partly, it’s because I publish a blog. Partly, it’s because I do a lot of work to link things together to FORM networks by inviting people to certain social networks, to accept requests from people, to build out the digital structure of such things.

Some quick tidbits:

  • I’m not in any way a “collector” of friends in social networks. At this point, I say yes to most anyone trying to connect, but I don’t gather.
  • I don’t believe in the “rule” that some use that one must “really in real life” know someone before accepting them as a “friend.”
  • I don’t build networks to market. I’m not a marketer. I build networks to be helpful, and to deliver value in both directions.
  • I think the key to it all is: “more hands lighten the load.”

Tips on Building Valuable Networks

Quick definition of “value:” I don’t mean money. I mean the ability to deliver and receive information, help, and further development (of networks, information, capabilities).

I can only tell you what I believe has worked best for me. I imagine your mileage may vary. I hope others add their own ideas on building networks in the comments.

  • Be friendly and inclusive. When I go to conferences, I look for the fringe players, the people who aren’t well known, but who are interesting. Sometimes, these turn into amazingly wonderful connections.
  • Treat “big names” like real people, and oddly, they treat YOU like a real person. This comes in handy later, when you can be helpful.
  • Seek to be helpful. Always. The more you can do for others, the more that wheel comes round, should you find yourself in need.
  • Connect. Connect. Connect. Help others find each other. Connect people with other people as often as humanly possible. This keeps flow moving, and it shows that you’re into sharing.
  • **BEWARE** network leeches. Occasionally, in trying to form communities of useful and sharing people, someone comes along who needs, needs, needs. Learn how to cut that sort away from your network. It’s not rude. It’s not elitist.
  • Diversity and opportunity are great ways to build something more interesting. Homogenous networks are only useful in a narrow scope. Meaning: meet lots of good people from lots of walks of life. You never know.
  • Say thank you. Often.
  • Do as much as you can, and then offer to help connect them to even more help, if you can.
  • Be as timely as possible. Help isn’t much help if it’s too late.
  • Never take credit. Always assume responsibility. Be as humble as you can muster.
  • Give often and long before you ever have to ask for something for you.

Social Networks and YOUR Network of Value

One last point before I ask you for your ideas: the power of all these social software applications is that they empower us to communicate rapidly, in a one-to-many format, and along the lines of our networks of value. To that end, be sure to use this to accomplish your goals. Make sure you know the size and depth of your personal database. Make sure your contacts and connections are well connected through these digital tools. Try to build them all such that you can respond quickly to people’s needs, and that you can reach the edges of your network, and help others extend out to theirs, so that everyone may take full effect of that work.

And don’t be evil. (Easy, right?)

I consider your participation here a value of my network. The fact that you come and share your ideas and insights is wonderful to me. I’m not always nearby a computer to respond back to every comment, but I read everything you say, and I LOVE when someone in comments communicates to someone else, and when you go off and blog your own take on the original idea that takes it in another direction. Thank you for this. I’m forever grateful.

And now, what do you think? What have I missed? What are other ways to keep a network strong?

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

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Photo credit, Jared

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