Almost Timely News: Why I Don’t Like Networking and What I Did To Fix It (2022-10-09)

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What’s On My Mind: Why I Don’t Like Networking and What I Did To Fix It

Let’s spend a few minutes this week talking about what used to be one of my least favorite parts of conferences and events:


When I say that term, what springs to mind? Perhaps images of mandatory fun come to mind, activities that force you into close proximity with others that you’re not particularly interested in.

Perhaps it’s a feeling, one of mild claustrophobia in the old days and outright germophobia now. People much too close too you, of varying degrees of hygiene, breathing all over you. As an aside, I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I am that it’s socially acceptable to wear a tactical respirator to parties now. You don’t even have to pretend to smile.

Perhaps it’s a person or archetype. There’s always that guy (and statistically most of the time it’s a guy) who fancies himself the conference ninja, flinging his business cards at any stationary target like throwing stars. And he’s always looking over his shoulder or yours to find someone else more important to talk to.

There’s also the miserable sales exec, the one who has to come back to the office with a certain number of contacts, setting up meeting after meeting, even if they’d rather be quietly having a whiskey at the bar.

Boy, that sure makes networking sound appealing, doesn’t it? And why is that?

It’s because the way we’ve come to know and do networking is corrupt. Not in a criminal sense, but in a purpose or intent sense. When we talk about networking, we’re framing it entirely in the mindset of meeting people so that we can take something from them (usually their money). Even the way we start those conversations – “so tell me what you do” – has that unmistakeable odor of “what can you do for me” implicit in it.

It feels kind of gross, doesn’t it? You can feel like a second rate pickup artist at a bar trying to woo someone just long enough to go home with them that night – not a role many of us are eager to play. And that intent seeps into our conversations, into what we talk about, into how we speak, how we look at another person, how we think of them.

When you’re talking with someone else who’s super gung ho about networking, you feel like a piece of meat, a walking wallet. They’re really interested in what you can do for them.

So what’s the cure for this ailment? It’s not even zanier activities or better food (though better food is always welcome). It’s reframing what we’re doing, what our intent is.

When you go out with your friends, when you hang out with your friends, do you ask yourself, “what can my friends do for me tonight”? I sure hope not. Ideally, you ask, “what can we all do together”? When you talk to your friends, are you contemplating all the different ways they can help you, or do you have a healthy give and take, helping each other in turn? When you think about your friends, do you think about how they benefit you, or do you think about how you benefit each other?

Mentally, I rebranded networking in my head as building professional friendships. That’s what I’m after – and in some cases, those professional friendships become personal friendships, too. (they don’t have to be; if you want to keep work and personal life separate, by all means honor those boundaries. You can still be friends in just a work sense.)

That changes everything for me. There have been, in the distant past, people I’ve worked with or had as clients who were valuable clients for the companies I was working for at the time but were not exactly people I’d want to be friends with, not people I’d go out to a meal with willingly. No amount of revenue is worth more toxic people in your life.

And when we think of people we meet as potential friendships, we value those people for who they are and not what they can do for us. If we are truly friends, there may come a time when we can provide value to each other professionally, but that’s not an expectation or precondition of the friendship. We don’t do that in our personal lives, so why would we do that in our professional lives?

This makes companies unhappy. You won’t be extracting revenue from your contacts in the short term, in time to make the quarterly board review or the earnings call. But it creates value over the long term if you’re patient and unselfish. I met one friend in 2007 and we’ve been friends for years. They briefly became a customer of my company in 2019 – and then they weren’t a customer, but they’re still a friend today. Imagine trying to fit that in an attribution model.

I had a call with a friend yesterday that was somber as they said they were departing their current position. The tone and the way they spoke seemed to indicate they were afraid our friendship would come to an end now that they were leaving their role, and I strongly contradicted them. They’re a friend, period. I want to hear about their new house, the pets they’re getting, the projects they’re working on. Is there a loss for me professionally because they’re no longer in that role? A little bit, but not much, not really. There would be a much greater loss if I lost our friendship as people.

Here’s the thing about friendships. People move around. Today someone might not be important to you if all you’re after is money, but if you put money aside, they’d be a good friend. In a year, five years, ten years? Who knows what the future holds, but you might be in a position to help each other. And that makes your professional friendships valuable to you as a person – they move with you. If you only value someone for the role they’re in, then when they leave that role, you’re screwed. If you value people for who they are and you maintain real friendships with them, then as time goes on your personal network gets stronger and stronger.

When you hear someone talk about being more human in marketing, this is what it means. It’s not finding more or clever ways to write copy, or do little marketing stunts. It means treating the people you meet as real humans, not walking contracts or wallets. If you do that, if you build real professional friendships, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish together with a little help from your friends.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Google Analytics 4 course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), I would recommend the interview I did with attorney Ruth Carter about how copyright law applies to AI-generated content. You’ll be quite surprised, I think. I know I was.

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What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

Social Media Marketing

Media and Content

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

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Dealer’s Choice : Random Stuff

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Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • MarketingProfs B2B Forum, October 2022, Boston
  • Heapcon, November 2022, Belgrade, Serbia

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

If you’re an event organizer, let me help your event shine. Visit my speaking page for more details.

Can’t be at an event? Stop by my private Slack group instead, Analytics for Marketers.

How to Stay in Touch

Let’s make sure we’re connected in the places it suits you best. Here’s where you can find different content:

Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You!

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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