Getting out of the fishbowl that Chris Brogan mentions is essential if you want to reach new audiences, no matter what form of media you participate in. The fishbowl is a comfortable place to be, and may even be a refuge for you when you need to recharge, but spend too much time in the fishbowl, and you’re just as likely to pick fights over minutiae as you are to make friends. In the end, staying in the fishbowl means you eat, sleep, and shit all in the same place.
So how do you get out of the fishbowl? Simple. (remember, simple != easy) Find well connected people in other fishbowls, and tie yours to theirs. Think about this for a moment – you are the hub of your personal network. You are the center, the focal point to which all spokes connect. Others are the hubs of theirs. To broaden your horizons, extend down a spoke to a different hub, and then another a step removed from that one. Get further and further away from your network center and the centers of those you know and you’ll find that you’re bridging new networks to yours.
That’s the theory part. How do you do it practically? Take a look at any social network – MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever. Find someone who’s connected to you, and explore their connections. Take careful inventory to see who they are connected to that you AND your network do not connect to, then reach out to those people. Send them a note, a friend request, an invitation to an event you’re attending or hosting, whatever. Use your relationship with your friend to make a relevant point of contact. “Hey, I saw that you’re friends with Chris Brogan, and I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Chris Penn, and Chris & I do this gig called PodCamp. Have you been to many yet?”
If you’re looking to target a certain demographic, then escape the networks of the people you know entirely. Google is a powerful tool, and can be used on open networks (MySpace, LinkedIn) to find people who are supremely relevant to you and vice versa. What word or words in your industry, in your focus, in your life are unique to what you’re looking for? What terms do you use and your desired contacts use that aren’t conversational? For example, in financial aid, there’s a form called the FAFSA. You don’t talk about the FAFSA unless you’re talking about financial aid. You don’t bring it up in casual conversation or use it in a pickup line (if you do, please post examples in the comments). Searching for FAFSA in blog posts and profiles, therefore, will reveal to you the people who are likely involved in your field of interest. Reach out to them.
Use the serious power tools – Technorati, Google, alerts, RSS – to continually find new people in your field of interest to connect to. Upload your contacts from GMail to see who you know that’s on any given social network, befriend them there, and then see who they know.
Ultimately, at some point you’ll stumble across what Malcolm Gladwell calls a Connector (from The Tipping Point) – someone who has the rolodex of power in your field of interest. Connect to them, befriend them, help provide value to them, and your network will REALLY take off then. You can spot these people fairly easily in social networks – they’re connected to everyone you want to be connected with. In the old days, this was a fairly opaque thing, but today, you can use open data sources like Google and MySpace profiles to identify the major connectors quickly, then reach out to them.
What do you do if you can’t find a connector? There may not be one for your specific field of interest, and that’s where you have the greatest amount of work and opportunity. If there’s no obvious connector, BECOME the connector. Start the time and labor intensive process of uniting everyone in your niche together on your social network profiles, becoming the hub for that niche. Provide as much value, give as much as you can to your network, and over time, you will become the hub to which everyone else in your niche reaches out to. No longer do you need to scale the walls of the fishbowl at that point – everyone else is dropping ladders into your bowl, and all you need do is grant them permission to come on in.