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Building Social Capital In A Socially Distanced World

It’s been a year since COVID-19 changed the way we move through the world. In addition to all of the personal changes, our business lives have been completely altered. There are no Happy Hours, networking events, conferences, lunches or in person business meetings. We’re conducting business through video conferencing and working from home. But what does this all mean when it comes to building social capital and staying connected in a meaningful, authentic way? What does it take to build and maintain high quality business relationships in this new age?

For over a decade I’ve flown all over the country and sometimes abroad to deliver keynotes and trainings on storytelling, business development, leadership, and communication. I didn’t mind being a road warrior and loved the people, the work and the experience of business travel. I will also admit that though I’m considered an extrovert, networking and attending events has never been my favorite thing. Now all of my training is done through various video conferencing platforms and every single form of connection is done remotely.

The good news is that there are many ways to remain visible, connected and valuable to your network. But before we get started diving into all of the ways you can continue to build and leverage your social capital, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t be doing.

Please don’t send LinkedIn invitations that are really just marketing copy. These invitations are the antithesis of authentic connection and demonstrate that you’re using invitations as a numbers game with the hope that 1 out of 100 people will respond. You won’t build relationships this way.

Don’t just reach out to get something. I get it. You need a job, an introduction or a client. But if you haven’t been contributing to the ecosystem and you only participate when you’re in need, the odds are pretty good that your connections will become fatigued by your requests.

Don’t exploit people and call it an ‘opportunity.’ We get lots of requests to speak for free. Our firm does pro bono engagements based on specific criteria. Reaching out to me with a free speaking engagement as if you’re doing me a great service generally indicates to me that you know nothing about my work, its value and the demand for it. While speaking engagements can be a business development strategy and some of the opportunities are well matched, more often than not people don’t think about who they’re asking or what this person normally commands in the marketplace. Craft these requests with care and thought.

Real connection is not transactional. Sincere connections don’t keep score. This doesn’t mean that you should overextend yourself or take on more than you can handle. This is important. Be valuable but spend your social capital wisely, and be clear about what you can reasonably contribute without becoming overwhelmed or resentful.

There are lots of positive ways to connect online that don’t take much time. Frankly, with all of the time we aren’t spending at conferences, networking events and other gatherings, we have ample time to express our value to colleagues online.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Write thoughtful recommendations for people. You can write recommendations for service providers, colleagues, speakers, as well as fellow committee members. Be expansive in your thinking and be specific with your recommendation. Everyone wants to feel valuable and seen. It cost nothing but a bit of time to write someone a recommendation on LinkedIn. It feels good to shine a light on good people doing good work.
  2. Making meaningful introductions is another great way to build your social capital. Just make sure you explicitly state the purpose of your introduction and get permission to make the introduction. If you send an email telling two people they should meet because you think they’re both fabulous, all you’ve done is given them work to do. Why should they meet? What do you hope comes from the connection?
  3. Share people’s content and make thoughtful comments. Don’t just make general statements, express what specifically resonated for you in the article or post. When we’re specific in our praise or acknowledgement, we’re expressing more of who we are and creating a greater personal connection. If you find yourself just saying, “great reminder.” It sounds general and as if you may not have read it. Remember that you’re trying to maintain personal connectivity.
  4. Set up Google alerts for people and companies that interest you. This will allow you to reach out when they’ve won an award, have an IPO, or anything relevant that would warrant meaningful contact.
  5. Send mail. I know this sounds old fashioned but because we all get so little mail, a personal note or a book feels exceptionally thoughtful and personal. Don’t be shy. Brighten someone’s day. You’d be surprised by how much people appreciate the effort.

As we move through a digital environment, we’re required to build new muscles to create and sustain connectivity. If you think nothing works then you’re right nothing will work, but if you decide to show up as your authentic self in a consistent and original fashion, you might find that your network is hungry for real connection even if it can’t be in person.

– by Ann marie Houghtailing


Here are some other tips from our Youtube channel:

Authentic Leadership:

Using Your Social Capital and Why it Matters:

No Contact Business Development:

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