Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Building Your Network

I find myself spending more and more time on LinkedIn lately.  Not because I am looking for a job, which is one of main uses of the platform by it’s 50+ million subscribers, but because of a book I recently read, "Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship At A Time."   Although it was written in 2005 when Linkedin was just a glimmer of it’s future self, (and barely registers a mention in any of the chapters) today there is no better tool to act on the book’s powerful message.

The problem with most books in the motivation/self-improvement aisle is they feel great while reading, but rarely have any real long-term impact.  Reading them, I tend to say to myself, “yeah – I do all that already.” Invariably, the book’s core messages “go in one ear and out the other,” as my mother used to say.

"Never Eat Alone” is different.  The book is based on a simple message: our network of friends, family, colleagues, associates, mentors and mentees are the foundation of all our success and happiness in life.  And the more we build and nurture this network through genuine relationship building and mutually beneficial interactions, the more happy and successful we will be.  The author emphasizes that our approach has to be in a spirit of generosity, not "what’s in it for me."

(Although I highly recommend the book, it is a bit marred by celebrity name dropping including an almost deal-breaking, reverential reference to Donald Trump.)

Some of the tactics:
  • Look for mentors: Link up with people who can help guide your career and can introduce you to the people you need to know. Then become a mentor yourself.
  •  Be interesting: Develop the style, knowledge, and expertise that will draw others to you.
  • Build it before you need it: Create lists of people you know—and those you want to know—and maintain ongoing contacts with them throughout your life and career—not just when you need a favor.
  •  Never eat alone: Avoid the fate of "invisibility"—use potential social settings to constantly reach out to colleagues and future contacts.

So after zipping through the book last month, I was inspired to find some digital tools to act on the book’s message and better grow and tie my network together.  (As mentioned earlier, the book was written 5 years ago before the explosive growth of social media, leaving current readers on their own to find the best tools and platforms.)

LinkedIn immediately fit the bill.  They have done a great job powering the platform with tools that provide much of the real time immediacy of Facebook.  Status updating, commenting and liking, forming groups and linking to Twitter and blog feeds are now standard features, along with an increasingly intuitive "People You May Know" engine.  

With a little exploring, I found additional features that immediately enabled me to to accomplish my goals.  (All included in the free version.) 

The first thing I did was go through my Outlook address book and invite everyone I was not yet connected to on LinkedIn to connect. More often than not, I replaced the generic LinkedIn message with a more personal one. (For the few people who don’t have an account yet, LinkedIn invites them to join the service.)

It quickly became apparent how irrelevant contact software like Outlook is becoming. With people changing jobs and positions so frequently, their contact information is often out-of-date, and the task of cutting and pasting new updated information seems archaic with so much now stored in the cloud.  And people are quite diligent about keeping their info on LinkedIn current.

Next I used LinkedIn’s tagging tool to categorize all my contacts - Friend, Colleague, City, Type of Business, etc.

Finally, I made sure my personal information was up-to-date and interesting, including new tools to link to this blog and my Twitter feed.

I am sure there is a lot more I can do.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

It was recently reported that LinkedIn is valued at over $2 billion.  Seems justified if they can become the hub for everyone's network.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thoughts From Someone Who is "Crushing It"

I joined an organization called NY Video last year and attend their Meetups in NYC every couple of months. The organization's founder, Yorin Samis, has done a great job building a community of over 3,000 media entrepreneurs and execs in NY who gather to share information about their online video-based businesses.

Last week's Meetup featured a Q&A session with Gary Vaynerchuk, who took over his Dad's liquor store when in he was in his early 20s and built it into a $60 million business. Along the way, he mastered every new media platform from online video to Facebook to Twitter,  just as they were moving into the mainstream. 

His daily online video show is one of the most viewed original web series of all time and he is approaching one-million followers on Twitter.  Since he became a web video sensation a few years back, he has moved well beyond selling wine and many people now follow him based on his well-informed thoughts on new media tools, branding, and entrepreneurship.

He has a written a best-selling book titled "Crushing It",  launched a marketing agency and has an unabashed plan to buy the NY Jets.  And while most of his success can be tied to new media, he has also mastered traditional media appearing on practically every major media outlet from Conan O'Brien to Jimmy Fallon to ABC News. 

His path from Russian emigrant to wine store owner to media maven and celebrity is inspiring.  He also appears to be a good dude.  More importantly, he is uniquely qualified to riff on the future of media and advertising, which he did in response to some great questions from Yaron and members of the audience last week.

When asked which media tool he would choose if he could only keep one, he was torn between between Twitter and Facebook, before choosing Facebook.  Like many others in the media industry he questions why Twitter, despite its enormous success,  has been unable to catch on with the younger demos.

He said that Facebook and Twitter are currently being used at less than 15% of their potential and the best way to imagine their future is too look at them as utilities, much like the railroads and electric companies at early stages in their history before their enormous impact on society was realized.

He was less enthusiastic about Google's future opining that Facebook could dominate search one day as recommendations from friends become more valuable and relevant than random search results from across the web that are based on monetization strategies and search engine manipulation. 

A clear move in this direction was Facebook's new partnership with Amazon last week. now offers a personalized Facebook-powered page that offers birthday and gift suggestions as well as specific products that are popular with your friends.  (I signed up immediately and discovered that "The Hangover" and "The Bible" are popular items among my diverse network.)

Social Beat goes so far as to call the partnership Facebook's most important integration to date:

"A deep partnership could help corner Google in the e-commerce market. One of Google’s most lucrative use cases is when consumers search to decide which products to buy. Costs-per-click on product keywords like refrigerators, TVs and books are often easily more than $1. But if consumers start looking toward their friends to find out what to buy, they could be able to bypass Google altogether."

So it's obvious Gary has a great feel for the new media landscape.  I always find it valuable to spend time with successful entrepreneurs who are willing to share their stories and opinions.