Talking to strangers in a crowded room where everyone wants something from each other is a true nightmare, and at times it’s the most direct path to career development. But there is another way to network—from behind a computer screen.
Your network encompasses many acquaintances and former co-workers, and most of them are not going to be your best friends, as Karen Wickre explains in an article for Ideas.Ted.com. Wickre had a long career at Google, and went on to work as the editorial director of Twitter, so as you can imagine she has a pretty huge list of people she stays in touch with. That means cultivating an interest in people you’re not necessarily close to, but want to remain friendly with. This is how she does it.
Remember Everyone Has To Ask For Help
A lot of people don’t maintain their networks because they see themselves as an island. They’ll never ask for help. Never!! But this is an untenable position; everyone needs help sometimes, and reminding yourself of that early is good. It means you’ll actually have the right people in your life when the time comes. Think of creating and growing your network as a part of your job description, rather than an unnecessary insurance policy.
Nurture Before It’s Needed
It’s easy to let network development slide when things are going well, but that’s the best time to do it. You’re keeping in touch before you need anything. Wickre describes this as keeping in “loose touch,” or making brief occasional contact with someone for no real reason:
You pop up now and again to your connections and acquaintances (old and new), without any obligation to follow up or see each other in person. If you do this when you’re not feeling needy, you will begin to see yourself as a giver, not a taker. And if you can occasionally solve problems for others as a result of these check-ins, it will help you get over your fear of feeling needy.
You are building positive associations with your name and making people feel like you’re interested in them. That’s much better than being the person who only gets in touch when they’re in a desperate situation.
It’s All Virtual
What’s great about all this advice is that it’s completely actionable from home. A live networking event has its own benefits, of course, but once you’ve met someone, you don’t have to meet them again. Just stay in touch over email, via text, or by sharing a funny tweet in a DM. Wickre has been doing this forever, and it used to be a lot more complicated:
Long ago, my loose-touch habit consisted of a Post-it list of the phone calls I’d make each day stuck to the cover of a well-worn address book. If I missed anyone, they’d go on the next day’s Post-it list. Fast forward to the 21st century and much of our communication takes place via texting, direct messaging and email. None of these requires a phone call, so you don’t have to worry about interrupting anyone, because people can respond to you when they’re free.
A phone call?! Good god, no! Let’s all be thankful that we no longer have to hear another person’s voice to keep in touch with them. Some of my best work relationships are with people who I probably wouldn’t even recognise in a coffee shop. Thank you, internet.
Don’t Overdo It
That said, don’t let the ease of texting someone a dog gif lead you to excess. The loose touch networking should be intermittent and based on a real connection. Wickre as a friend and entrepreneur named Julie how she uses loose touch successfully, and she gave an emotionally intelligent answer:
“It goes back to the basics of being a good person, being a good neighbour. You should always be looking out for your friends and former colleagues and neighbours. If you’re a good person, you are always ready to help them — and then it’s easy to receive or ask for help later.”
Keep it low pressure, but thoughtful. And be warned that sometimes checking in on someone might lead to an invitation to meet in real life.