It seems like the concept of “networking” has been around for awhile, albeit with different names and connotations. If we think about networking over the ages, it can be fun to think about how things have changed over the past 50 years.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, networking was accomplished primarily by joining clubs like the the local country club, Kiwanis, Lyons International or the Chamber of Commerce. To track one’s network, the tool of choice was probably a Rolodex or a little black book.

During the 1980s and 1990s, networking became a buzz word in business and networking took on the form of passing out business cards at different functions and trying to collect as many of them as you could. Clubs were still in vogue, but a paradigm shift was definitely occurring. Computers were becoming more prevalent and we now had email, contact lists, and SPAM.

Over the past 9 years, a dramatic shift in networking has occurred. With the ever increasing marvels of technology, we now have tools for networking that include instant messaging, cell phones, blackberrys, palm pilots, PDAs, mp3 players, blogs, video blogs, pod casts and virtual worlds like Second Life.

In the last 5 years, we have seen the introduction of My Space, Facebook, Linked In, You Tube, Digg, Technorati and yes…. Twitter.

With all of these changes, I think many of us have lost our way when it comes down to the basics of networking. Many of the networking tools available today are often used solely for advertising and marketing. There is a BIG difference between these and networking.

Networking means building relationships. Advertising means blurting out your message. Networking with Honor means simply… building relationships. In his book Never Eat Alone Keith Ferrazi gives us many different ways of building a network, but it always comes back to building relationships.

You see, it doesn’t matter how many people you know. What matters is how many people care for you, and how many people you’ve helped. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but I’ve seen it posted on the internet in different variations and believe it has been lived out by more people than we would care to admit.

A CEO of a Fortune 500 company lived life to the fullest while she was working. As a CEO her calendar was always full and it seemed like she never had a moment to herself. Well, one day Kim was diagnosed with cancer and despite treatments her condition worsened until she could no longer effectively function as the CEO and was forced to retire. While she had a small fortune saved up and lived very comfortably, she noticed that she lacked one thing after her retirement. After about a month of leaving her post, she realized that her phone was usually silent, that her calendar empty and her guest room vacant. She didn’t have many people that truly cared for her. All the people she “knew” were busy knowing other people to advance their careers.

The point here is that people won’t care, until they know how much you care. You see, a true network is based on people helping and caring for each other. Not just scratching someones back in the hopes of getting yours scratched too. Are you doubtful? Consider Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. I would guess that most people would say he has an extensive network. Where was this network after he got into trouble? How many people truly supported him when he was down and out? Some, but not many.

In the world of Facebook, My Space, Linked In and Twitter – remember that networking is all about building relationships, not amassing large numbers. Let’s take Twitter for example. You may have thousands of people following you, but how many are really listening to what you have to say. Which brings us to an interesting point. What are you trying to say in this new environment anyway?

Again, using Twitter as an example, for those of you who want let the world know what you are doing, it is perfectly ok to say something like, “having pizza for lunch – Yum!” But, for those of you who want to network, is this the best way to go about it? I would argue no. You want to engage people. Help them out when possible. If you’re networking on Twitter, it would have been better to say something like, “Downtown Chicago has the BEST Pizza at Pizzanos!” Then give a short link to their web site so a reader might find it. Someone may be looking for a pizza place and might remember where they got that information, more so than just taking note that you, a total stranger, were eating pizza for lunch.

Networking with Honor also means putting away your elevator speech at times. When people meet you, they might find it interesting that you are someone who helps businesses get organized, or that you help people get out of their own way. But – what they really want to know is who are you? Are you funny, talented, quiet, loud, offensive, polite? Networking isn’t so much about letting people know what you do, but that you care about them. If people know you care, they will be in your network and will let others know about you… free of charge.

All the best,
All the time,
JT