Wednesday, October 6

Losing Contacts: The Open Network

A couple years ago, I considered moving out of the Las Vegas market after being approached by a Fortune 500 company. The offer was nearly perfect until they tossed one question that was a deal breaker in my book. It was about my "book" or what was once called a Rolodex.

"How many media contacts do you have in your Rolodex?

Seriously? A tech company even using the term seemed suspect enough, Fortune 500 or not. But the real rub was that it just doesn't matter how many business cards you've filed away. Social networking has created an open network, where the value of industry connections and media relationships are based on quality, not quantity. I tried to explain, but they just didn't get it.

"It just doesn't matter what the industry is, any seasoned public relations professional can create a fistful of media contacts overnight and the quality of the relationships will be established almost immediately based on the initial interaction."

That was the power and promise of the social network. Even if you didn't have certain contacts, doors could be opened easily enough. Almost everyone on the planet is one or two or three degrees removed from the contacts you have today (assuming they are real relationships).

And then I read Fear and Loathing on LinkedIn this morning and realized the opposite is true too. If everyone's doors are open to you, then your doors are likely to be open to everyone else too. As HR technology writer Steve Boese pointed out, everyone has access to your network.

It used to be, you'd only have to worry about competing recruiters luring your best talent away to what is usually seen as an uncertain path, now it looks like soon your friends at LinkedIn may help guide the way a little more clearly," wrote Boese. "But don't be afraid, if you lose that top marketing manager you can probably find another one soon enough."

The same can be said for small shops, consultants, and, well, any business really. Online networks are open books. And if you don't think that someone isn't interested in stealing away your employees, clients, customers, and maybe your spouse, then you might be as naive as new snow.

While the value of quantity connections used to carry value on the supply and demand side, it just doesn't scale. One thousand exclusive connections only mean something when they are exclusive. Today, those 1,000 connections are an open book. Of course, it's nothing to panic about, as Boese suggests. It's the best thing that happened for everybody.

"Fear melts when you take action towards a goal you really want." — Robert G. Allen

The remedy is never fear or attempting to lock down those precious connections. It's very much the opposite. Make them precious. Make them count. Because in the new economy, the quality of the relationship isn't secured by keeping your connections hidden or bombarding them with frequency. It's based on something else, which is closer to friendship.

I have many friends, but only a few close ones. Those I could consider close (and I don't necessarily mean "secret keeping" close) are the kind of friends that I could reach out to once every ten years and we would pick up where we left off, as if the last time we connected was a week ago. I have many acquaintances that are very much the same (former students included).

It's the only kind of relationship that has real value, and you can even make them with first-time connections if you are adept enough, value them enough, and keep them off the agenda. Anything less isn't a connection, it's only a contact. If you focus more on the former as opposed to the latter, you can almost guarantee that your employees will be unrecruitable, your client unstealable, and your future connections unwavering (even if you never met them beyond a post, email, or tweet).

And if you don't believe it? Well, then keep doing what you're doing. You'll figure it out in your own time, probably when you grow weary of the revolving door. And that's something you can count on.
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