It's Not Who You Know, It's Not Even Who Knows You

You’ve heard the old saying, “It’s who you know,” and probably the modern variant on it, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” I’m here to tell you it’s not that, either. A big address book or an even bigger fan base is worth next to nothing unless those people will do one thing: take action on your behalf.

It’s not your network itself that has value for you, it’s your ability to call your network into action.

That’s a pretty broad concept. What does it mean in practical terms?

Let’s take a simple example: how many people do you know who would loan you a dollar? $10? $100? $1,000? As the dollar amount goes up, the number goes down, of course, not just based on the ability of the people to take that action, but their willingness to do so based on the strength of their relationship with you. Simply put, how well do they have to know you in order to take a particular action on your behalf?

That point is the “action threshold”.

If you build a “network” of thousands of “friends” or “connections”, the vast majority of them are going to be very weak relationships. Frankly, you’re lucky if they even recognize your name. How likely do you think they are to take action on your behalf? In fact, with more and more “noise” being generated in the social media world – Twitter, Friendfeed, etc. – it becomes more and more difficult to even get people to take the most trivial of actions, like replying to a message on Twitter or commenting on a blog post. How much more difficult is it to get people to do something of real value?

Given a limited amount of time to spend building relationships, the more people you try to meet and maintain relationships with, the weaker they will be, on average. I’m not suggesting you should build just a small, close circle of friends, but that you consider whether going for raw numbers is really the most effective use of your time. If a relationship isn’t actionable, how valuable is it, really?

The easiest way to build stronger relationships – the kind of relationships that get things done – is by taking some of those “above the threshold” actions for others yourself, by helping others get things done. Here are some ideas on ways to create real value for people via social media:

  • Instead of leaving a dozen or so blog comments, write one guest blog post for a friend.
  • Instead of leaving just an opinion on several questions on LinkedIn, spend an hour with the person who needs help with a spreadsheet (I did this one last Sunday).
  • Instead of posting on Twitter about what you had for lunch, post a review of a new book or product of one of your associates.
  • Instead of browsing a couple of forums, spend half an hour calling one of your contacts and discussing with them.
  • Instead of inviting a dozen more people to your network on LinkedIn, write a recommendation for someone already in it.

Social media is a powerful tool for building your network, and a powerful network can help you get all kinds of thing done in your business and your life. But don’t make the mistake of confusing activity with progress. Invest your time in relationships in a way that will yield real returns, not just the illusion of results.

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  1. May I also add hit ’email this story to a friend’ when going through your favourite websites or RSS feeds, add a little message about why you think they’ll like it. I’m trying to do this every day and the personal feedback is making it all worthwhile

  2. This rings so true! I’ll just leave a comment for now, but I have taken to heart your suggestions. Now for some action steps . . .

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