How to Authentically Network and Support Others

Photo: yaph via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: yaph via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I used to have this terrible aversion to “networking.” Even someone just saying the word made me want to get out of the room.

I had this idea that networking always had to be about self-promotion and trying to “get” something from other people. Networking only seemed to be able supporting one’s own work.

Then my mindset completely shifted…when I started Organizing Change.

I sat down with my notebook one day and thought “who do I want to showcase in the social change world and why?”

I thought of all the incredible organizations and individuals that are pushing forward constructive, positive change.

I made a short list of folks who I wanted to share with my posts at Organizing Change and planned out ways to illustrate why you should know about their work.

I realized way later that what I was doing was actually identifying a network for Organizing Change.

That’s when it hit me…Creating an authentic network is all about sincerely highlighting individuals and organizations who can support others.

I now think of my network as Organizing Change’s way to pinpoint the core currents in the social change world and what we all should be paying attention to.

Now I know when I share updates on Facebook, retweet on Twitter, or put in links to other blogs within my posts here, that what I’m actually doing is supporting my network and those of you who read these posts.

So let’s check out some specific ways to build an authentic network and support others!


Frame networking positively


If you frame networking as something to be avoided, as I used to do, then you’re probably not doing the best job of supporting those around you.

If we reframe networking from self-promotion to “collective-promotion” (i.e. highlighting the important contributions of others), then we have a much better chance of being useful to our communities.

Another way to frame networking positively is to think about “who do you want to learn from?” For me, learning is one of my favorite things and so I create my networks based on who teaches me more about myself and the world.

One of the most important lessons I learned from my own communities throughout this entire process of working on Organizing Change, is to keep in mind your own work matters and is a valuable contribution to those around you.

So by sharing your work you are letting people know that it is important to you and that while you would appreciate acknowledgement, you are doing this to provide value to social change work.


Aim for mutually supportive relationships


Online media has made it a lot easier to build collaboration. Instead of thinking people as “competitors,” it’s much easier to think of them as allies.

Whether it’s sharing links on social media or bringing up important organizations when talking to others, there are many ways to support both yourself and others. People will often be grateful that you identified a key resource or wrote about their own work.

Think about what you can offer the other person, not just what they can offer you. In the long run, this intentional focus on what others are doing will demonstrate that you know what is going on.

For example, when I see people pointing out the amazing work of an individual or organization, I think “wow, that person really knows what they are talking about. I better look out for their updates since they’re so helpful!”

Also, as I noted in the last section, you have a lot to give to the world so don’t be afraid to share your own ideas and efforts (if you really don’t think you have something important to contribute, let me know and give me a chance to show why that isn’t true)!


Know why you want to network


Developing a network is more about being effective, rather than trying to connect with everyone. A smaller, more intentional network is better than a large one without much thought behind it.

Also, you need to think specifically why you want to network with someone. Do you want to learn from them, do you want being to contribute through a certain organization’s work, or do you want to connect people that should be talking to each other?

For example, I want to connect more with the organizer/creative writer Adrienne Maree (find out more on Adrienne’s blog The Luscious Satyagraha) so that I can learn more about the range of changemaking principles, emergence, and how to infuse art into activism.

This illustrates why authentic networking is so awesome! I know exactly why I want to network and I feel great just being able to share about a motivating changemaker!


Create your network lists


After you know why you want to network, it’s time to make some lists!

On Twitter I have my larger news sources and those I like to keep updated on about social change (e.g. news outlets, changemakers, organizations, creative culture changers, and blogs). These form my extended network.

Then I have my own focus list of about 8-10 individuals and organizations that I really want to understand more about and promote. In general it’s easier to build relationships with individuals than organizations, but just recognize the difference when creating your own.

Don’t forget to include people and friends you already know! They are great people to have in your network!


Promote others as much or more than yourself


It’s OK to want your own project to be successful and known, but you should be promoting others (e.g. linking to them in posts, sharing their accomplishments through social media, etc.) at least as much as your own.

This also shows you know what is going on in the social change world!

I always share differently depending on the medium. Here’s what I do for Organizing Change:

  • On the Organizing Change Facebook page I generally focus on posting Organizing Change content and 2-3 other sources a week.

  • I use Organizing Change’s Twitter page to focus on my main networks and to really highlight others. I probably have at least a 3:1 ratio of sharing others vs. sharing my own posts

  • Remember good ol’ email! For example a few weeks ago I emailed friends about the Leading Change Network’s Global Event since I thought it would be a very useful for those interested in social change.

These are just my methods, figure out what works best for you to highlight others.


Be open to learning from many sources


You might learn from someone you didn’t expect.

Folks may try to network with you, approach them in the same way as you do any other networking efforts. I tend to have the mindset that I can learn something from anyone so I love finding out more about the work others are doing!


Build the relationship in multiple ways


So I’ve shown a lot of the main characteristics of authentic networking, but are some clear and specific ways to actually network?

Copyblogger had a great post on the “14 ways to build strategic relationships” and I’ll point out a few of them below:

  • “Start cultivating” – follow your networks on their social media pages and start sharing their work (e.g. retweeting, talking to a friend about a resource, or running through the street handing out flyers)

  • “Connect them to a great resource or person” – we don’t know everyone, and sometimes we are looking support from someone we don’t know yet. Help those in your network connect!

  • Interview them or meet them in person – digital communication is great, but eventually it’s going to be helpful to meet with your network in person

  • “Give them honest feedback” – I know I appreciate constructive feedback, and I know many others do as well!

There are countless others wa

ys to build relationship, which leads to my last point for this post!


Design your own personal networking style


After reading this far you probably have a good sense of my “networking style” (e.g. recognizing others, learning-oriented, and collaborative promotion), but you’ll need to develop what works best for you.

How do you usually connect with others? How can you apply your life’s approach to your networking (i.e. make your networking efforts mirror everything else you do in your life)?

What concerns/fears do you have about networking? Can you identify positive ways to move forward and contribute?

Who’s someone you really want people to know about? Why do you want to share their work? How are you going to share more about it?

These questions helped guide me to a place where I feel I am truly “authentically networking” in a way that matches what I do throughout the rest of my life.

Want to create your own authentic networking plan? Send me a message and let’s setup a time to work on it together!

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+