Cultivate an Active Network

Jean Russell and Chris Brogan It’s never the number. It’s what you can do with it. This applies to lots of things. It doesn’t matter if you drive 3000 people to your store, if no one rings the cash register. Who cares how many people follow you on Twitter if you can’t motivate them to participate with you on any level? But how do you cultivate an active network?

It Starts With Being Helpful

I’ve come to realize something: there are people who can be helpful, and then there are people who offer their help over and over. Guess which one is really helpful?

If you can jump in and participate, or point out the kinds of people who you know can help others, that’s a great way to start cultivating an active network. We all respond well to someone who is quick to help.

Be There

Online and off, the person who gets the most out of a network is the person who is actively tapping it. You can’t always contribute to every event, but how often can you be absent from a network before it no longer “remembers” you?

Visit with your network and contribute on a regular basis. Notice that I say “contribute” and not “just leave a message.”

Touch As Many as Possible

One way to keep a network vibrant and response is to touch everyone you can. Talk to them. Absorb some of what they’re working on or inquire about their passions. The more you can contribute to others, if only by communicating and participating in some small way, the more likely you’re building reciprocal relationships.

Talk About Them

If you’re communicating in some kind of “one to many” way with your network, make it peppered with stories about them. In our Trust Agents community, Julien and I look for what our group members have shared on their own Facebook networks, and we pull in the occasional related piece. Because we’re asking people to participate in our community, we make sure to keep the chairs turned in so that we interact instead of pontificate and preach from the pulpit.

Deliver Value Back

For every time you ask your network for something, try and give something back in return. The more you can leverage the contributions of your network such that they serve you and return a value, the better things work. If I join the Sharpie Uncapped community, not only can I contribute my art and ideas, but I can benefit form the people who have also shared. The creators of the community (Sharpie markers and their agency) have this built such that everyone gets something for their interaction.

Can you deliver value back for the value you asked?

Active Networks are Your Capital

You probably do know the difference between being connected to a network of sorts versus participating in an active network of like-minded people who share disparate but compatible goals. In the first case, you feel great until you need something. In the second case, you know that people have your back and that you can deliver as much help as possible until the time when you, yourself, might have to call on the network.

Invest and you’ll see a return. Start an account without much interest and you’ll get back only what you put in.

Do you belong to an active network?

(Want to see an active network in action?)

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  • http://www.loiclemeur.com loicdirect@gmail.com

    very wise words Chris, as always, I agree 100%. I am curious on why you chose a Facebook page for your community rather than a dedicated Ning site? I am experimenting both at the same time.

  • http://www.tommartin.typepad.com/ Tom Martin

    Chris,

    One more thought to add…

    Care about them [your network] more than yourself.

    @TomMartin

  • http://twitter.com/judymartin8 Judy Martin

    Best line in this post:
    “Because we’re asking people to participate in our community, we make sure to keep the chairs turned in so that we interact instead of pontificate and preach from the pulpit.”

    So true – listening and then sharing reaps incredible rewards. Silence breeds creativity, listening triggers brilliance within.

  • http://www.providentpartners.net/blog Albert_Maruggi

    You and I agree on this 100%, period, next comment. The old thinking requires a number, either that number is in followers, or cash register rings, or brand perception change, it's all about a number. It might not be the same number for everyone, but many are fixated on a number.

    NO, don't go there.

    Social media will either help shift our culture's thinking or it will be the biggest fad of this century ( and there is plenty of century left). The concept of community, is not quite accepted in the US. I'm not getting into the socialism, thing, but there is a shared root word there isn't it?

    And we still have layered an old thinking model “My dog's bigger than your dog” mentality over a social web culture. This is causing some conflicts. Hmmm good topic for a conversation eh?

  • http://www.pr-mom.com/ Therese

    I do not belong to an active network, and in a conference I attended last week Peter Shankman (@skydiver) stated that we only connect with 3% of our network and when he said it, I thought to myself – really I guess that does fit me. However, I decided to do some twitter recommendations last night through MR. Tweet (http://mrtweet.com) and I went through I want to say about 8 pages and that really made me start to realize how many people I connect with, how many people did I know, did I engage with, help, talk to, there was not a lot and it really got me thinking about how much of a problem that was, and I was actually going to do a post about it today, see Chris we are on the same wave length, so mine is not going to be as informative as yours as I am still learning how to engage in a way where I still have hours in the day to work :-), but these are all excellent points and are very helpful since I was just brainstorming on this same issue.

  • http://www.limecubemarketing.co.uk/asqueezeoflime simoncmason

    Chris, you never stop being helpful which is why you have more of an army than a network. I think the thing is if you help 10 people over and over again, chances are they'll tell people so by focussing on quality you'll inevitably finish up with quality and quantity.

    Looking forward to reading Trust Agents – I'm guessing there is a lot in there about helping folk out – seems like the best way to start building trust.

    Thanks for the monumental amount of investment you keep putting into your network/followers, it's hugely appreciated.

  • fkb_bxl

    Ning requires another sign up no? While Facebook is already widely subscribed. but indeed, it's not as powerful as ning.

  • http://www.kranzcom.com/ Jonathan Kranz

    I'd add another: Be a good host, the person who introduces people to each other. Putting yourself in the middle is a good (and socially acceptable) way of pushing yourself forward.

  • Karen

    I think I am starting to get it! Just finished the inboundmarketing university classes and contacted you after the course with a followup question about building community. I started tweeting last week, was just picked up QuailRidgeGolf in Acton as a follower. Then took a look at who they were talking to and there you are talking to them about golf… and from that found this article, a perfect example of building a community by being helpful and how to get found.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carolyn-Nichols/1656729762 Carolyn Nichols

    get the most out of social networking

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  • http://www.pimpyourmarketing.com ChrisDonaldson

    I think the one word that really describes this approach – and Chris in general – is generosity. Giving more than you get. It's a sage approach to social media and life in general.

    If it's one thing I wish they stressed more in academia, it's building an active network. I wish I could go back 20 years and reconnect with all those great minds/people I encountered in the Ivory Tower. 'Building the Rolodex' sounds so cliche – but remains a founding principal of all good business.

    Chris
    http://www.pimpyourmarketing.com

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    I'm testing the share features of facebook and capitalizing on the number of active users on FB.

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  • http://www.bestwebimage.com/ Rob

    Be ready for the next great network.

  • http://www.iangilyeat.com/ Elizabeth

    Probably my favorite part is the image and feel created when you turn your chairs facing inward. Right there your efforts are directed to making the network a community instead of an audience. This is a huge thing people need to realize. They've got to interact with and talk with people instead of talking at people. I for one have no problem admitting that my audience knows more than I do. So as you change your thinking from audience to community, you are not only preaching, but learning as well. As you listen to what they have to say you can give back more because you've taken the time to figure out their needs and gather and glean from their knowledge to create something even more valuable than one person alone could do. Thanks Chris for the well thought through post

  • suzi w.

    This is what I was talking about last night. I'm so anti “nickels and noses” that it sometimes gets me rabid. Thanks for writing this.

    yours, respectfully,
    suzigurl

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/George-Charles-Treadwell/703334243 George Charles Treadwell

    Listen, take action intelligently, and have reachable goals for your community.

  • lisahickey

    Awww shoot. Every time I think: “I don’t have time to comment, I’ll just swoop in and read a quick Brogan post and then begone” you say something brilliant, Chris, (not to mention helpful) and I feel compelled to comment. What I’ve found is there are so many easy ways you *can* be helpful in this space. You don’t even have to ask “how can I help you” – just take action. Here are things I’ve noticed people doing that have been helpful to me: Taking the time to listen to what’s being said and adding your own view of the world to it. Understanding someone else’s best qualities and talking to the world about them – in a way they wouldn’t. Writing a letter of recommendation unasked. Making introductions. Not running away from people when they have a problem that needs solving. Knowing how to disagree artfully, with kindness. Sharing what they’ve learned. Thanks again Chris!

  • http://www.insidethewebb.com/ Jake

    Sweet! Really useful article, bookmarked to Delicious

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  • http://twitter.com/vickysplace1 vickysplace1

    I want to compliment you on your article. I learned much information. I am trying to figure out how to figure out my time to accomplish all I want to do in a day, or days , a month, or months and a year, or years.

  • http://twitter.com/zaneology zaneology

    Hi Chris, Happy Vacation! Post is awesome as usual, but I like to highlight how the picture you chose for it is equally awesome! It's a perfect example of how no one should take themselves (or their message) too seriously while getting serious. :) At the end of the day, we gotta just be a real – real people sharing the multiple facets of ourselves while engaging others to do the same. It will attract a broad spectrum of people into our “network” — which is important because now our network IS our community — and the more varied experience we create/offer/instigate/cultivate in our community the more we can discover and learn from each other. How exciting!

  • http://twitter.com/zaneology zaneology

    I fell in love with @lisahickey when she disagreed gracefully with me the 1st time I ever “spoke up” with an insight on Twitter. She then created/hosted an open minded global discussion about it. From that one initial tweet interaction, we have become Twitter friends for life and we “live on each other's radar.” ;)

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  • http://twitter.com/bwdumars Bert DuMars

    Chris – Thank you so much for the http://sharpieuncapped.com community shout out in your post. You are correct, we are sincerely trying to embrace our Sharpie fans and artists. It is amazing how creative, artistic and innovative they are with Sharpie markers. The work ranges from high-end art that sells for thousands of dollars to very practical uses like repairing furniture and shoes. I personally like the Sharpie fans who merge multiple media into a piece of art. Some of the videos I have seen that integrate live Sharpie art creation on video, choreographed to music are absolutely gorgeous.

    Building a brand community is not easy, but Sharpie fans and users make it a lot easier due to their passion for the brand and products. We still have a ways to go, but hoping for a lot of activity and an explosion of creativity in the community.

    Sincere thanks for the shout out and insightful post.

    Bert DuMars
    VP E-Business & Interactive Marketing
    Newell Rubbermaid
    http://newellrubbermaid.com
    Sharpie Blog: http://blog.sharpie.com
    Personal Blog: http://socialmediaecosystem.blogspot.com
    Twitter: http://twitter.com/bwdumars

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