I’ve just finished teaching an online course for The Knight Digital Media Center @ USC Annenberg for community foundation leaders on practical networked leadership skills. It covered how leaders can use their social channels as their authentic selves to engage with their communities and in leadership conversations with peers, social learning, and intentionally building and developing professional networks online.
One of the classes was focused on “Smart Professional Online Networking” and includes an exercise where participants analyze, de-layer, and build the “core” of their professional network. A strong core is your inner circle, a smaller but diverse group of people who give you energy. But having a core isn’t enough, with online social networks there is the power of weak ties.
To get more insights, we look at the advice from Master Networker Heidi Roizen, profiled in the popular 2000 Harvard Business School case study about professional networking. In the case, Roizen highlights three key elements of successful networking: access to the right people, your performance in and after the interaction, and your consistency over time. These principles are still true today, but a lot of changed with the adoption of online professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn.
Roizen says that today is all about relationships and online social networks can speed relationships — that is the more you are present with your authentic brand, the more you can connected with the right people or quickly. She warns not to confuse social media connections with actual intimacy. “Social media creates a false sense of intimacy. Social media has allowed us to have broader relationships, but at the end of the day, human relationships haven’t changed — we haven’t increased a human being’s capacity to have close associations with a lot more people.” Everyone has to set their own limits or a connection policy (and disconnection policy). For example, my colleague, Alexandra Samuel, suggests using the “favor rule.” Would you ask or do a favor for this connection?
However, Roizen is not saying that should only think about professional networks in terms of having a core or inner circle only. Online technology has increased our capacity to maintain weak ties with people, and has value. There’s a lot of research and writing about weak links being potentially more powerful than strong ones. She says that social media and online technology can let you catch up quickly with colleagues from your past or potential connections and let you evaluate whether or not to reconnect.
When I teach, I always make space for an activity called a “Learning Culmination,” where I opened it up for reflections, questions, and a conversation about how to continue their practice as engaged social leaders. One question that came up goes something like this: “When I first started LinkedIn, I grew my network without having a strategy – thus accepting too many connections from people that I don’t know or not sure why it is valuable for us to be connection. Is it okay to clean out your connections? Is it rude to “unconnect” from someone on LinkedIn? And, what is a good way to do this cleaning?”
First off, it is easy to remove a connection from your LinkedIn network, but yet some have a concern about letting go – that somehow it is rude or the other person might get offended. When you remove a connection from LinkedIn (“unfriend”), the other person will not receive a beeping notification that screams that you’ve disconnected them from your professional online network on LinkedIn and most likely they won’t notice.
Your professional online network and connections requires ongoing tuning and that includes occasionally clearing out some of your connection clutter. I just read Marie Kondo’s “the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organization” which, of course, is talking about decluttering your closet and home, but the principles work for your professional life – clearing your calendar, to do list, and your online social network connections.
Think about what happens to your closet if you don’t organize it. It does not stay neat and tidy with just a few items of clothing that you like to wear. When you make no conscious effort to keep it organized, the closet becomes a cluttered mess. Every so often, it might get so out of control that you try to purge your closet. But you need a disciplined system beyond asking “Will I ever wear this someday in the future? That question may make it hard to let go. Kondo suggests asking a question like, “Does this item of clothing give me joy or energy?” If not, get rid of it.
So, you might want to “Kondo” your connections in your online professional network! Think about your connections and the value as well as Alexandra’s “favor rule.” Do this an annual Spring cleaning. To keep your network de-cluttered, identify an intentional connection policy about who you will accept as a connections.
How do you de-clutter your professional online network? Do you have an intentional connection policy?