Be a Connector: Helping People in Your Network

Miriam Salpeter

Just as there are many types of people, there are multiple types of networkers. Showing interest in people you meet and focusing on their needs, acting interested in the events you attend (even if you’re not), paying attention to the person in front of you, and following up after events all will help move you to the next rung of the proverbial networking ladder.

Not everyone follows these rules, however. If you’ve been out and about, these descriptions may remind you of someone you know. To be successful, you want to avoid mimicking these types of networkers:

  • “It’s all about me networker.” You know the type. They want to tell you all about themselves and all conversations turn back to their needs.
  • The “reluctant networker.” These people make it clear networking is a hassle and a chore. You wonder why they didn’t just stay home.
  • The “shifty-eyed networker.” The whole time you’re speaking, these people look over your shoulder, presumably to see if there’s anyone more interesting in the room.
  • The “disappearing networker.” You had a great interaction with these professionals, either in person or online. However, when you try to follow-up, they are nowhere to be found.
  • “Let me give you a card networker.” These professionals seem more interested in dropping business cards than in any actual engagement. A partner type to this is the “give me your card” networker. That person probably collected enough cards over a lifetime to wallpaper several rooms but never does anything with them.

There is another type of networker you do want to emulate. This person is called “the connector.” In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell popularized this moniker to label one of the three personality types he outlined. He defines a connector as someone who knows many people. Wikipedia describes “connector” as:

“People in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. Connectors usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles.”

You haven’t seen good networking until you’ve met a “connector.” This person seems to know everyone and never stands with two people without introducing them to each other. A connector is always thinking about how to help others in his or her network.

If you act as a connector, you’ll not only help other people get in touch with each other, you’ll also reap the benefits in return. People are much more likely to think about you and to refer you for opportunities if you go out of your way to help link them with useful information and contacts.

How to Be a Connector

Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “Easier said than done. How do I become a connector?” In Gladwell’s book, he named connectors as one of three personality types. However, as with any behavior, you can take steps to change your typical approach and adjust not only your behavior, but also your outlook and personality.

Think About Others First

True connectors don’t stop to wonder if someone will be able to return a favor or do anything for them to repay a kindness or an introduction. If you are willing to help others with no expectation of anything in return, you’re well on your way to having a connector’s mindset. Keep in mind: networking is about building relationships, not about putting the equivalent of money in the bank to take out later. When you focus on what you can do for other people, you will grow a stronger and more engaged network.

Extend Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Some people are not naturally connectors because they are introverted or shy. Others are not confident and comfortable introducing two people to each other in person, especially if they aren’t already great friends. Perhaps you’re not the kind of person who usually speaks to strangers. If this describes you, you may need to stretch yourself beyond your natural comfort zone in order to become a true connector. Consider how many more people you will have a chance to meet if you speak to strangers at events, or even in line at the post office or grocery store.

Get Out and Meet People

It’s a challenge to be a connector if you don’t make an effort to get out of your home and office to meet new people. Use tools such as Roundtown.com or Meetup.com to find all types of events geographically convenient to you. Don’t limit yourself to professional events. Depending where you live, you may be able to find everything from book clubs and professional events to horseback riding, kayaking, and card playing groups. Considering that you may meet the most important person in your network at any one of these events, it’s up to you to get up and get out, even if you are busy and tired at the end of the day.

Join Organizations

The next step beyond just getting out of the house is actually affiliating with some groups. Don’t hesitate to attend ad hoc meetings about topics that interest you, but make a point to join some groups that are professional in nature and purpose. Even better, get involved in the organizations and meet as many people as possible who engage in similar work.

Ask Questions

People love curious colleagues and contacts. When you meet people, make it your business to learn something about them. If you’re strategic, consider what you need to find out to enable you to connect that person to someone who would be a good networking contact.

Listen

It’s not very helpful to ask questions if you don't carefully listen to the replies. Take steps to become an active listener. It’s an important part of networking. Most people are not good listeners. Instead, they allow themselves to be easily distracted by technology or other things on their minds. Instead of hearing the sound of voices around you, listen carefully to the words. Pretend you’re in a lecture and there’s going to be a test afterwards.

Make a point to echo, or repeat, what people say to you. Recount things from your conversations to ensure you’re paying attention. For example, if the new contact mentioned her vacation plans, instead of nodding and smiling say “How exciting you’re planning a trip to Vancouver. I love that area!” If you discussed when your new contact would be starting a new job, grade your listening on your ability to confidently respond at the end of the conversation with, “Good luck starting the head of finance position on Tuesday. I’m sure it will be a great change.”

Think Ahead

To be a connector, you’ll need to leverage some strategy. Research before you attend events and learn about the people who will attend. Then, ask pointed questions, listen, and learn how you can help your new contacts. Once you identify ways to help other people, you’ll be prepared to connect people with each other.

Be Willing to Reconnect

What about all the people who should be in your formally defined network, but aren’t? Reconnect with people you used to know, including classmates, work colleagues, and casual acquaintances. Consider having a get together or a party and invite people who would get along. Or, organize a happy hour with a few friends who might have something in common. Keep in mind, when you can connect two people over a common interest, you’ll have taken on the role as a networking connector.

Be a Resource

A good way to be a connector is to serve as a resource. Everyone has some sort of specialty or interest that makes them especially helpful to others. What is your interest? Do you always know where to find the best consignment furniture? Are you the maven of identifying great discount sites to purchase theater tickets? Maybe you’re a great editor, or you know a lot about rewiring old homes. All of these are potential connecting points between you and people you want to meet. These hobbies and interests can make great bridges to help you connect other people to each other, too.

Professionally, make an effort to be a resource to everyone connected to you online by sharing useful information via your social media streams. Many people are overwhelmed by the amount of content they are expected to consume on a daily basis. Be the person who curates the news and posts the most interesting, useful items for your network. When you are the go-to source for news and information, it helps raise your profile and visibility and helps connect you with more people, including those you might not otherwise know.

Follow Up

The best networkers always follow up. You can’t call yourself a connector if you don’t make efforts to keep in touch with your network. Make it your business to track your network and stay aware of their plans and interests as well as any professional or personal changes. Send occasional notes to reconnect. These notes are a great way to remind people about you and your situation while you offer to put them in touch with others in your network who may be helpful for them.

A Caveat

There is one point of information to keep in mind. While being a connector is a valued and important role, you want to respect your contacts’ time and interests. If you think of two people you believe would be a good professional match, before introducing them via e-mail or social media, be sure to request permission from all of the parties to make a connection. That way, you avoid putting anyone in an awkward position if he or she is not interested in pursuing a networking relationship with the suggested contact.

If you keep these goals in mind, you’ll advance toward becoming a highly valued connector in your professional and personal circles in no time.

Miriam Salpeter is owner and founder of Keppie Careers (http://www.keppiecareers.com/), a coaching and consulting firm helping job seekers and entrepreneurs leverage social media and other tools to achieve their goals. She has appeared on CNN, and  major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes and others have quoted her advice. In addition to her own blog, Miriam writes for U.S. News & World Report and for AolJobs.com. She is the author of the books, Social Networking for Career SuccessSocial Networking for Business Success: How to Turn Your Interests into Income, and  100 Conversations for Career Success. Named to CNN’s list of “top 10 job tweeters you should be following” and a “top 5” influencer on Twitter for job seekers by Mashable.com. Miriam also had her blog selected as a top career resource by Forbes. A vice president for a Wall Street firm prior to earning a master’s degree from Columbia University, Miriam ran the Career Action Center at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University before launching her own business.