Our twitter lists are growing, our networks are exploding, we’re losing track of our LinkedIn contacts, and we’re trying to manage who sees what of our very published lives.
We’re more connected than ever.
In turn, our worlds have become overrun by numbers – likes, friends, retweets, follows. It takes the most dedicated among us to not care. With all of these advancements, have we lost something along the way?
Can we use the jewels we’ve gained through technology to enrich our most important assets, our relationships?
Critics are lining up on both sides of the fence, ready to advocate for the unplugging of or the extension of our ever-increasing connectedness. With the uprisings of location-agnostic movements such as TED, Social Media Week, and Creative Mornings, we’ve proven that intention and connection go hand in hand, and social media can provide the vessel through which we can continue to expand our world and our relationships in valuable ways.
But it takes focused effort.
One of the best ways to expand a network, whether personal or professional, is to be memorable. Work to build a personal brand only you are known for. While we’re all individuals and not easily categorized, try to find a label or two that helps people identify where to file you in their minds – and how to recall you at a later point. Whether online or off, tell the same story about yourself in the way you dress, speak, write, tweet.
We’re surrounded with so many choices and options and people, it is only a natural part of our innate survival patterns to filter information and discard what doesn’t matter to us. We’re forced to put on blinders to find the things we’re interested in and who can help us on our way.
The people you meet do this, too; they want to find what is most meaningful to them. The challenge is to quickly grab their attention and demonstrate why you’re the one they need to listen to. This goes for companies, brands, products, individuals, politicians, doctors, you name it. Value is derived from the ability to be equated easily in the minds of an audience.
Insert yourself into situations where you feel valuable and relevant; take note of environments in which you can be conscientious and present. Join groups, discussions, and work sessions you can contribute to in a thoughtful way. Send carefully crafted emails. The mindful attention you put into your responses and answers will be noted.
Time and care count for leaps and bounds when you’re looking to connect in a meaningful way.
And with genuine interest.
Ask questions and mean it, not just for the sake of starting a conversation. It’s fine if the question is personal and applies to your work. Most people are thrilled to discuss projects of their own and find common ground to stand on. Be curious, and see how you can learn from another or help them by sharing your own experiences. You may not at see it at first, but a stranger’s story might be complementary to your own. You just need to be inquisitive.
Adopting and retaining a sense of curiosity will enable you to continue to explore foreign waters and use technology to expand your knowledge of the world and the network of people in it.
So much of our work online is within our control. We bookmark, decide which sites we visit and are led to sites of similar interests through friends’ postings and programmed advertisements. We do this offline, too. We purchase movie tickets after checking reviews. We consult friends before attending conferences. We scan hotel ratings before booking vacations.
Reinsert mishap into your life. Don’t plan. See if you can find inspiration in unexpected sources. Force yourself to be uncomfortable. Improvise. Cross boundaries.
Advancements in technology mean more opportunities for the intersection of fields of work and areas of interest. Are there guardrails you can ignore? Use your existing networks to find an area you’re unfamiliar with, and plop yourself in the middle of it.
Attend a class in a subject you have little knowledge of.
Share your knowledge and challenge yourself to stand in front of a group.
Reach out to a professional in a different industry to see how their work might be relevant to your own.
Social has become a ferocious tool of discovery, but there are gems to be found offline. Make it a priority to set aside time in the “real world.” Challenge yourself to a day sans media and tech, and see what you discover.
Pick up a pen and make things with your hands. There’s something human about creating with raw materials that becomes lost through keyboards.
Schedule the next office meeting in the park and leave the laptops behind. There are nuances and gestures that can’t be transmitted through a computer screen, and it’s easy to hide with a device in front of you.
Uncomfortable situations have a unique way of creating bonds between people. If you allow yourself to go there, you might be surprised with the result.
Social media has hammered nails into industries and opened channels of universal communication that were never before considered. Customers now have easy access to companies and receive around-the-clock replies. Celebrities and plebeians alike are able to construct branded images and expand their tribes of loyal followers. We have been gifted with the ability to find and connect with others who share similar interests, people we may not have otherwise discovered.
With so many networks at our fingertips, take time to cultivate something meaningful and continue to improve your world alongside improvements in technology.
Michelle Welsch devotes her time to creating magical connections. Using her background in psychology and experiences in settings as diverse as jails, middle schools, and boardrooms, she founded Project Exponential, a series of curated networking experiences delighting people into personal growth. She’s worked alongside Seth Godin, directed Social Media Week NYC, and has consulted Fortune 500 clients, small business owners, and determined entrepreneurs. Follow her @redheadlefthand and read her blog.
[Photo credits: Sara Lando, William Hook, Stephen John Bryde, Rosmary]