As the saying goes:

It’s Not What You Know, It’s WHO You Know.

And the corollaries, who knows you and for what reasons they know you.

Of course, if “what you know” isn’t very much, then the “who knows you and the reasons they know you” are more likely to become liabilities than assets.

But assuming, for the moment, that “what you know” is strong, then “who knows you” might become one of the primary things that distinguishes you. And the internet can help.

Admittedly, not a novel concept. Lawyers have recognized the value of relationships and reputation since time out of mind. And the lawyers who are effective at developing business, not only understand the importance of creating, developing, and nurturing relationships, they’re actually good at it too. And they are adept at using various “tools” in this capacity.

And while spoken language, eye contact, handshakes, body language, pheromones, and getting out and doing things with people are undoubtedly among the most important, there are a host of other ways that we communicate, interact and nurture our relationships. Some of these have included:

  • Hand-written Correspondence
  • Telephone Conversations
  • Emails

And as communication technologies and the internet continue to evolve, the tools at our disposal significantly enhance our ability to create, develop, and nurture relationships. Unfortunately, just as has been the case with new technologies throughout history, many of these new communications tools are largely misunderstood and misused.

They are often seen as new opportunities for advertising and exposure. And so, as we race to auto-post to our twitter followers and rush to create law firm facebook pages, we forget about the social communication and interaction parts.

We make the mistake of thinking of the internet as more like broadcast media, like television and radio, and fail to understand that they’re actually more like emails and text messages (except of course that they’re public and permanent). Perhaps they’re better described as non-face-to-face public conversations.

But both the substance of these conversations, and with whom we are having them, matter. Both to people that we know, and those that we don’t.

Learning InterNetworking

You may have heard the “social media as a cocktail party” comparison. And there is some truth to that.

At a cocktail party, the who and how you approach people are very important. The same is true online.

At a cocktail party, your appearance and your substance matter. The same is (read eventually will be) true online.

And while conceptualizing internet networking through the cocktail party lens is helpful, some key elements are often lost in the execution. So here is just one example of something you might try:

  1. Search – Go to Google and search for something that interests you. Perhaps it’s something newsworthy. Maybe it’s not, but it’s something that you’re interested in. Hint: It doesn’t have to have anything to do with your professional life.
  2. Find Articles – Find a handful of articles that are discussing the topic. Perhaps they’re published on a local news website. Perhaps they’re published by a blogger. Stick to recognizable sources that appear trustworthy.
  3. Identify the Authors – Find out who the authors are. Look for links to their bios. Look for contact information. Search for them on social networks like Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.
  4. Listen – Listen to what they’re talking about. Are they talking about their article? Are they sharing other information on the topic? Listen to other people that are talking about the subject. You can find these people in comments on the articles or search for the subject matter on social networks.
  5. Engage – When appropriate, engage in the conversation. Perhaps you comment on their article. Perhaps you reply to them on Twitter. Perhaps you write your own article or post and share it with them.
  6. Meet More People – Go out and look for more information that interests you. Who are the people that are talking about this. Who are the journalists that cover this subject? Who is blogging on the subject? What organizations are relevant? Who are the leaders and influencers at these organizations? Engage them.
  7. Take it Offline – When appropriate, meet the person offline. Perhaps you belong to the same organization. Perhaps you like the same restaurants or sports teams. Maybe it’s their birthday, buy them a drink.
  8. Take it Online – What about all the people you knew before the internet? Guess what, many of them are going online too. Seek them out. You already know them. The internet provides additional ways to nurture those relationships.

I think there’s little doubt that networking through internet is still in its infancy. Which makes now an opportune time to get your feet wet.

Keep perspective. Allocate small amounts of time here and there to internet networking. Spend more time listening. Be thoughtful. Act like you would at a cocktail party, before your fifth cocktail…

Remember that the social web is an interactive communications tool. Not a traditional broadcast advertising platform. Use it to meet people, develop new relationships and nurture your existing relationships. You might just be surprised how effective and limitless it actually is.

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