One of the things we discovered in the process of researching The Virtual Handshake is that one of the best ways to build strong relationships with other people is to help them actually get something done. Small talk is cheap. Actually stepping up to do something that makes a difference in someone else’s business or life costs some effort, but pays much higher dividends in the long run.
I would even go so far as to say that much of the reason that it’s easier to build close relationships face-to-face than online is because of the fact that we work with other people towards common goals more in person than online. Much of our online interaction is "just talk" — bouncing ideas around, sharing opinions, etc.
But there are all kinds of opportunities to have more helpful, valuable and meaningful interactions through virtual interaction. Personally, I choose these interactions over light conversation as much as I can. Sometimes that may mean I spend an hour helping one person actually accomplish something rather than doing courtesy replies to 10-15 other people. In fact, those people may never get replied to — there are so many demands on my time and only so much of me to go around.
Case in point…
Next Monday, I’m conducting a teleclass with Diane Darling entitled Maximizing LinkedIn and Other Online Networks. Diane and I have been virtual acquaintances since early 2003, when David I reached out to several established networking experts as we started working on our book. While we haven’t actually collaborated on a project until now, our history has been one of small, truly helpful actions, not just conversations. She introduced us to her literary agent (we didn’t end up with her, but still…). And a couple of months ago, I spent a couple of hours helping her set up an Excel spreadsheet in response to a question she asked on LinkedIn about limiting a mailing geographically by distance from a given point.
So when Diane decided she wanted to do a teleclass about online networking, who did she call first?
While a couple of years ago I was "THE guy" about online networking, these days, a Google for "social media expert" turns up 51,000 results, and "social networking expert" turns up 11,000. A few of them actually even know what they’re talking about. 😉
Now certainly it wasn’t that one act of extra effort that put me at top of mind, but I asked Diane about it, and here’s what she had to say:
Your help with the spreadsheet was part of it, you wrote about my business…and you’ve been a generally good guy. You get reciprocity. Not everyone does.
This is why I still contend that for most people, focusing on a smaller number of stronger relationships is more valuable in the long run than chasing numbers and building a list with no substance to support it. There are dozens of other qualified social networking experts who Diane could have found via LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc. But when it came down to it, it was the one who she actually had a substantive relationship with — the one she had actually exchanged favors with — who she picked.
In our article for FastCompany.com entitled Who Knows Who You Know: Leverage and Focus, David and I explained the concept of the "action threshold":
Crossing the Action Threshold
Many people will respond if you ask them for a favor. But it’s far better if they proactively market you and seek out clients for you. It takes a certain degree of trust and relationship strength for them to act proactively — that’s when you have leverage. If your relationships aren’t above that "action threshold", they’re not really serving you at full capacity. To achieve this goal, you first and most obviously need a high credibility level in what you’re selling. Assuming you have that, you can also motivate that proactive behavior in others by being proactive yourself in your service to them. A finder’s fee is another way to motivate more people to look out for your interests.