Finley, Kate #2Today’s guest post is by Kate Finley.

Growth. Reach. Influence. Connections.

Likes. Views. Followers. Subscribers. Fans. Brand Ambassadors.

These are examples of tools we use to report and measure success for our brands, clients, and bosses.

But what about your own network?

How do you measure your influence? And how can you make your network go viral?

Is it in the numbers?

While the significance or reliability of the numbers is debatable, we can’t completely disregard their ability in helping measure our personal networks.

The dilemma is that it seems some people have more networking success than others. What’s their secret? Where’s the magic formula?

Networking Success

While it’s not magic (thank goodness!) it can be quite magical. You never know who you will meet, who will refer you, introduce you, or employ you. Networking is an integral tool in moving up the proverbial ladder and busting that glass ceiling to oblivion. Networking is an art. How you get there is up to you, the artist, but there are valuable tips and tools you can ues to expedite the process.

How do the pros do it? How do the Richard Bransons, Keith Ferrazzis and Gini Dietrichs seem to influence and grow their networks to viral status? How does the magic happen? Although personal styles vary, here are some key takeaways for creating a valuable, thriving network:

  1. It never hurts to ask. This advice is straight from my mom and it’s GOLD. What separates the network guru from the network failure? Fear of rejection and fear of embarrassment (so basically just fear.) However, what’s the worst that can happen? Someone can tell you no. OK. Move on to the next potential connection. I’m not going to lie to you and say that putting yourself out there isn’t nerve-wracking. The good news is the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become and your personal networking style will take form.
  2. Play nice. I don’t mean fake nice or sugary-sweet nice, but be kind and practice thinking about ways to help other people. According to the Harvard Business Review, snarky is out and sweetness is in. When it comes to networking, nice people finish first. Period. So send that follow-up note after your in-person meeting. Thank that person for the referral. Link to that blog and don’t forget the significance of please and thank you.
  3. It’s not about your network. This may sound counterintuitive at first, but track with me for a minute. Just because you have 500+ connections on LinkedIn or a massive Twitter following doesn’t mean you are connected to the right people. Shift your focus to getting to know people. Know what they are doing, what drives them, and be on the lookout for opportunities to help them. Remember their birthdays and figure out the best way for you to keep in touch to stay front-of-mind.
  4. Extend beyond your own backyard. In this case, the grass can be greener on the other side. We live in a virtual world. Networking in-person isn’t mandatory anymore. I’m not saying you should ditch your local PRSA meeting — a face-to-face is still your ideal scenario. However, it’s not required anymore. Don’t limit yourself. The amazing reality is you can literally meet or develop a relationship with anyone you want. Anyone. You just have to be strategic, creative, and persistent.
  5. Enlist the right tools. Social media has not only created more opportunities to network, it has created a plethora of tools to assist you in the process. Experiment to determine your best approaches and incorporate tools to streamline and optimize your networking efforts. For example, I use Xobni within my Gmail to save time in following my contacts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I also immediately send thank you or follow-up emails after meeting someone for the first time.Next, you have to determine when and how you will stay in touch with your contacts. Sending birthday wishes and notes or emails are great ways to do this. I even send birthday gifts (because I LOVE birthdays) to the top contacts within my network.
  6. Do your homework. Make sure you’re networking with the right people. Don’t network with your peers only. Network with influencers and the people who can connect you with other influencers. Create a strategy for following up with contacts and stick to it. Focus on your goal and start chipping away it.
  7. Invest the time. Growing your network takes time and commitment. Find out what events are relevant to your industry locally and nationally and attend them. Who are the key influencers? Who do they look to for advice and insight? Make a plan for how you will expand your network and stick to it. Create smart habits that can be successfully implemented with each new connection you make. Build your network before you need it.

Final advice: Don’t apologize when asking someone for help. That’s part of why we have networks. Instead, say thank you and be sure to return the favor. What goes around comes around and smart networkers know this principle.

What networking tricks are in your toolkit? What advice do you have for creating a ‘viral’ network?

Kate Finley is a media relations expert who specializes in integrating public relations, social media, and marketing for specialty food brands and start-ups. She’s passionate about working with brands that truly help people dream bigger, and live better, healthier lives. During the past year, Kate executed 50+ events and secured more than 1,700 media opportunities for her clients. She’s also a Paleo-eater, singer, aspiring half-marathon runner, and a big fan of Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook.