When I was nineteen, I was a little punk rocker – that’s what got me from New York to Chicago. I shopped at Amvet’s and picked up fantastic vintage clothing for nothing, back before people cared about vintage duds. One of my best purchases was a high-school cheerleading sweater, bright blue with a big white megaphone on the front of it and the word “Captain” on the megaphone. I was not a cheerleader in high school – just the opposite. So the sweater was the perfect ironic 19-year-old thing for me to wear, and I got compliments on it all the time.
Fast-forward twenty-some years and here we are in the on- and off-line networking world, managing connections with hundreds and thousands of people in our personal and professional spheres. There is a megaphone in the picture – we use it any time we blast out a message to 400 of our nearest and dearest friends, or send out our newsletter or toss a LinkedIn Profile Update out into cyberspace. The megaphone is tempting – to some of us, it’s addicting. We love that ability to write something once and mail it a hundred or a thousand times. It’s convenient!
Megaphone-style communication makes sense when we use Plaxo to tell our friends that we’ve moved to an office across town. It’s not a great way to say “Hope you are doing well” or “I was thinking about you.” One of the lowest things a networker can do is to send out a broadcast communique and try to dress it up as a personal message. “I saw this article and thought of you” is a common approach. Disgusting – I want to write back and say “Really? What about this article made you think of me?” You can tell, more often than not, when a personal-sounding email message is actually your tiny slice of a mass mailing sent to zillions of people.
Some people really fall in love with the megaphone drug, the crack that hides in the broadcast-communication approach. They can’t stop. Some people send me weekly updates – on their articles published, their media interviews and their client events. What’s annoying is that I didn’t ask to be added to the distribution lists. One time, I wrote to one of these megaphoners and asked her to take me off her distribution list. I got a frosty reply back in my inbox a minute later. “I have no distribution list,” she wrote. “I send things to you that I think you’d be interested in.” Ouch. I must be honest – I didn’t believe her. “In that case please sending me stuff,” I wrote. Networking does not entail blasting your friends with your latest news.
Like everyone else I know, I don’t do as great a job keeping up with my friends as I’d like to do. We all feel guilty about that from time to time. But shoot me right now if when I have a chance to write to a friend, or call him or her, and say “How are you? What’s new? How is your sister’s baby?” but instead I sent a blanket email message that says “Thinking of you! Check out my article in Catfish and Flounder Weekly!” That is the opposite of networking. You’re not thinking of me in the slightest, except as one more entry in your roster of thousands.