Net-working beats networking

7 06 2010

When I think of networking I think of the plethora of networking events and in this respect I am neither a natural or enthusiastic networker. I say this knowing that to most of the hundreds of people I meet each month this will come as a big surprise and may even be heretical for someone in my position, particularly this month, when networking is the theme of the magazine.

I attend many networking events, as delegate or speaker, and have no difficulty approaching people and chatting away. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy the whole networking thing. I don’t. But I do love meeting people. I am genuinely interested in people, how they think, what makes them tick, their hopes and aspirations. This is one of the reasons I love working with the3rdi magazine. There are so many interesting women and businesses out there, all with their own fascinating stories. However, you rarely meet people for long enough at most networking events to gain these sort of insights. I make an exception here for Athena. I am a fan. Here there are small groups within the larger grouping and there is a real opportunity to establish long-term business relationships.

However, most networking events are like mornings in the zoo; lots of voices clamouring for attention, all needing to get heard in order to get their reward. In the zoo this is breakfast. For the networker this is the exchange of business cards.

The swapping of contact details, rather than listening to the other person, is the driving factor. Most events will exhort you to bring £10 for coffee and lots of business cards when attending an event. They are more speed dating than long-term relationship. That’s not to say that it is not possible to make a great new contact at a networking event but surely there is a better way to meet your prince than kissing hundreds of frogs?

And that brings me to social networking. What I am going to say is counter-intuitive. I know that as only 6 months ago I was a complete sceptic, no more than that, I was a denier. One of my first blog posts was called Twitter Ye Not, and I detailed my objections to social media in general and twitter in particular. As you can read, I was unconvinced but you will see from the postscript added a couple of months ago, I am now persuaded of the value of social networking for business.

And actually it is more than that. Twitter suits me!

When I first considered the benefit of hearing what anyone had to say in just 140 characters I thought it unlikely that they could say anything of interest in that few words. I reckoned without human ingenuity…..and most communication is managed without annoying teenage textspeak abbreviations. You do have to pick the accounts you follow carefully. The amount of banality and vacuuos nonsense out there is truly mindblowing – there are only so many times I can read “today is the first day of the rest of your life” and other such ludicrous platitudes before I want to throw myself out of the window, taking the tweeter with me!

But the big positive for me is that by following short posts on twitter over a period of a couple of days you can get a far better insight into the person than you can in the business card frenzy that is the networking breakfast. You can choose, from the comfort of your own seat, whether to engage with that person or not, as opposed to being wedged into a corner of a second-rate hote room by a used car salesman or aromatherapist. And most posts come with a link so that you can instantly find out more about the issue, business or person. At an event you have to wait until you get back home and visit the website described on the business card to find out that the international grain merchant you spent the whole event talking to actually runs a bird seed shop in Peckham.

So, I’m a convert, to twitter at least.

If you have got a twitter account yourself then let us know and we can follow each other.

You can follow me at http://www.twitter.com/kebirch and the3rdi at www.twitter.com/the3rdimagazine

See you there

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Twitter Ye Not

11 11 2009

I don’t twitter
I have never twittered.
I have never been onto the website – honestly-I haven’t

So why am I compelled to write about it?
It’s because I just don’t get it?

It seems to me, admittedly just from what I have heard/read in the media, that because of the limitations in the number of words you can post, twitter is essentially a place to tell people where you are:
I’m in the bath
I’m on the train
I’m in the garden
I’m on the internet

My life is pretty interesting, I’m told, at any rate it interests me, but are the internet masses really interested in my whereabouts or those of anybody else?

I do Facebook, poorly I suspect, because I feel that I should. At least here the is enough space to write about what I am doing;
I am enjoying a relaxing bath at the end of a busy day
I am taking the train down to my parent’s house for the weekend
I am in the garden rooting out ground elder from around the hostas.

That last one is a lie. I hate gardening but it does serve to illustrate how easy it is to tell small lies in order to sound a bit more interesting that you really are!

So Facebook appears marginally more useful and entertaining than twitter. I am unconvinced. One of my facebook friends posted information to the effect that she was having fun programming the autokey on her computer. Maybe I just have odd facebook friends….or at least friends that should get out more!

And here is another odd thing – the concept of “friend”.

Before becoming an overt dating site, Friends Reunited encouraged people who knew each other at some point, or at least who shared a history, they lived in the same street, went to the same school, to make a connection. But facebook friends? I don’t have many facebook friends and the majority of those are people who I’ve never met, though it is true that we do often have interests or enthusiasms or prejudices in common.

The old saying has it that “a stranger is a friend that you haven’t yet met”. What then a friend that you are never likely to meet?

I do Flickr. I have a genuine, though thoroughly amateur interest in, photography. On flickr it is also possible to connect with people from all over the world, the majority of whom you will never meet. The difference here is that the common interest has already been established, taking photographs, and there is a clear platform for friendship. Tellingly, flickr terms the connections you make “contacts” not friends, and while this is less, well, friendly, it feels more appropriate. Even on flickr I don’t have a huge number of contacts. I could have. Flickr does not require someone that you tag as a contact to confirm or accept the approach. So anyone can have hundreds of contacts…..but why would you? Some people do.

And here I think we might be getting somewhere. Lots of people have lots of contacts, lots of on-line friends – are these really just “pretend friends” like children conjure up to help them through their early years?

I have listened to several radio presenters over the past few months urging people to follow them on twitter. I will leave aside the morality of a state funded broadcaster shamelessly promoting the services of a commercial organisation. And the reason they gave for asking for listeners to twitter was “to have more followers (fans/friends) than Stephen Fry.

So there we have it. If you have more followers than Stephen Fry you must be more popular than Stephen Fry. Who wouldn’t want to be more popular than the lovely Uncle Stephen but will having thousands of listeners following you on twitter REALLY make you more popular? Will it really make you more real friends? Will it really make you a better person? Or is it all down to insecurity and ego?
Ah, but I am writing a blog. If I don’t think it is important or interesting for people to know where I am (I am on a train) or what I’m doing ( I am on a train heading down to see my parents), why on earth should I suppose that anyone is the least bit interested in what I think?

Well, maybe you are, you’ve got this far.
Or maybe you are not and have stumbled onto word number 746 entirely by accident. In my defence I have always found that writing things down is a good way to get my own thoughts into some kind of order. Now, thanks to the internet, or at least because of the internet, I can share my ramblings with the planet, though I do know that 98% of blogs aren’t read by anyone but the blogger!

I suppose that the best bloggers fall into the same category as the great diarists like Johnson and Pepys. Great diarists are still around. If you don’t believe me have a look at The New Statesman.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression, though I probably already have, that I am a complete Luddite. After all I am the managing editor for the 3rdi.co.uk and the associated social networking site at youcubed.co.uk and in the recent past I founded and ran a multi-million pound internet retail business.

The point I am trying to make is that there has to be a point! At the magazine we are aiming to cover all aspects of work from a woman’s viewpoint. With the social networking site we encourage comment on the articles in the magazine. There is a point to what we do on the web. But twitter seems to me like an end in itself. Would the world be a worse place without it? Would your life be enhanced by knowing that Stephen Fry was at the dentist?

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

Postscript 2010

BUT….and it is a very BIG but…..all of the above are hugely important and valuable business tools so, while I am personally sceptical about their value to me as an individual I am now convinced of their value to my business, and so should you be if you are running a business.

So watch this space…or follow me on twitter x





Being Princess Leah

11 11 2009

This week my facebook friends have been Ja Ja Binks, a wannabee geek, Mr Burns, Dylan the Rabbit and the scary one with the ginger hair!

Am I alone in being amazed at the vast number of personality tests out there and at puzzling over why we are addicted to taking them?

I do not know which Star Wars character I most resemble and I have little interest in finding out but I have found myself considering paying $100 for a wealth dynamics profile and I am a wondering why?

Over the years I have taken a fair few personality tests and have found that while some traits stay constant – the fact that I’m still female is actually the only one that springs to mind – most have changed depending upon my age, state of mind and whether I really wanted the job! That is to say it is often easy to give the answers that the questioner wants; we give the answer that we think will show the character traits that we want to be revealed at that time.

Defenders of the personality test will no doubt suggest that the better, more sophisticated programs will be able to see through our artifice, that they will be able to discern the real Dorothy under our created-for-the day persona.

I’m not so sure.

A close friend who is very successful, very bright but totally self-absorbed recently completed a profile that showed her to be tolerant and nurturing. In my opinion, and that of everyone else that knows her, this is complete nonsense. She has many fine and positive attributes but tolerance and compassion are definitely not among them. The interesting thing, however, is that she sees herself as a nurturing person. Could it be that her self-delusion is so complete that it allowed her to fool the system?

But the accuracy of the diagnosis is not my main concern with these profiles. The big problem is what are you supposed to do with the information? It might be comforting to complete a profile and see that you are Princess Leah, pretty, brave and always gonna get your man, but what real use is that information, other than to generate a warm glow to the ego while you enjoy a well-earned coffee break – after all you deserve a break, you have just spent 20 minutes working on your laptop filling in a personality profile!

It seems to me that knowing the kind of person you are is only a small part of the picture.

Another friend has a small tattoo saying “knowledge is power”. To an extent that is true but it is the use to which you put the knowledge that is the real power. I know that Liverpool will not win the league without a couple of quality signings and probably a change in manager but I have no power to act on that knowledge and so am condemned to spend another season with my head in my hands listening to the boasts of Mancunians.

Having the ability and opportunity to do something with the knowledge you have is the key.
So, maybe I should take the test as part of a workshop session so that I can be given advice on what to do with that information. In theory that seems like an answer, but is it really? Well, provided that the people running the workshop are not complete cowboys, and I will assume for the sake of this argument that they are not, then two days support is better than nothing, surely?

My gut feeling is that change, proper, integrated, permanent change can only come from within. We are all looking for a quick fix – oh look, I am Princess Leah but will you still be Princess Leah tomorrow or the next day or next year? Will a stranger, or an automated personality profile, telling you that you are Princess Leah make it possible for you to head off and blow up a Death Star? I think not. If you feel certain that you are Princess Leah then you can go off and save The Empire but that knowledge, certainty, power comes from within.

Not convinced? Think about this. When most women are asked what they most want, it is to lose weight. Our own bodies are, pretty much, the only things that we can fully control. The formula is very simple. Everyone knows it: eat less, or exercise more, or both. No-one force feeds me cake and red wine. We all control what goes into our bodies so the one thing we can do on our own if we want to, surely, is to lose weight. But it is still top of our wish list. If we cannot do the one thing that we really can do on our own how can we hope to take control of other aspects of our lives that are subject, in many big and small ways, to the influence of other people?

As I mentioned to a friend and colleague when we were discussing this the other day, I already know my profile – I’m a sceptic!