social media networking

By Srinivas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Chances are you’ve never heard of Oliver Starr. But you’ve probably heard of many of the people below:

This may seem odd to you, but Oliver, a successful blogger and Michael Arrington’s first employee at Tech Crunch, had never heard of these people when I mentioned their names.  The only reason I learned who he was is because he’s the product evangelist for Pearltrees, a tool for organizing information that I really love. My interaction with Oliver was eye-opening because I just assumed that if you’re in “the biz” you would have heard of most of these folks.

It made me realize just how narrow our view of the web is.

A few weeks ago Mark Schaefer wrote about his observation that there is nothing new in blogging. I’m willing to bet if most of Mark’s readers put the names of the blogs they read on a regular basis into a hat, they would all have a very similar list. Our natural tendency is to gravitate towards people similar to us, and the result is a self-imposed lens through which we view the social web.  Maybe it isn’t that there’s nothing new in blogging, but that we’ve been stuck in an incestuous circle of social media marketers, lifestyle designers, and personals development bloggers. Just so we’re clear, I’m not pointing fingers. I fall into those same incestuous circles!

Innovation and new ideas can’t diffuse throughout the social web when experts spend all their time talking to experts. That’s why I believe it’s important we not only embrace new and emerging talent, but also take steps to get outside of our comfort zone and expand our horizons.  Here are five ideas on how to do that …

1. Purge your blog reader and start from scratch

Every few months I literally unsubscribe from nearly every blog I read. This enables me to accomplish a few things.  First I’m able to prioritize which blogs have become the most important to me.  Second, it forces me to look for new blogs and creates an opportunity to connect with new people.  As a result my network continually expands.  Subscribe to a few blogs that have nothing to do with your industry but that you just find interesting.

2. Pick 5 new people to follow on Twitter and build a relationship with them

I’ve never particularly cared too much about the number of followers I have on Twitter which might seem sacrilegious, but it’s been a big part of my philosophy on building relationships. What I’m more interested in is who is actually following me.  Every few days I read the bios of my new followers and pick a few to engage with.  The amazing people I’ve found by doing this include successful entrepreneurs, artists, published authors, literary agents, and many other people who are doing amazing things online. This has been a great way to broaden my own horizons and connect with exciting new people.

3. Attend a conference outside your industry

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about leveraging public speaking was from Michael Port. He said that rather than speaking at a social media conference go speak to an association of dentists because in that environment you’ll be the go-to person on your subject matter. This could lead to additional speaking engagements and consulting opportunities.  By attending or speaking conferences outside your industry, you not only have an opportunity to grow your network substantially, but you could also tap into a significant source of opportunities. Additionally you may find that you’ll be exposed to  a wide variety of new ideas.

4. Go to smaller conferences

Our general tendency is to attend the biggest industry conferences each year so we can see as many people as possible.  This creates a highly competitive environment for people’s attention and limits what we can get out of the conference.  I think conferences like Social Slam, which is devoted to opening up speaking and networking opportunities for diverse new talent, drives opportunities to meet thought leaders outside the echo chamber. One additional suggestion I have for conferences  – don’t hang out with the people you already know.  Seems obvious, but not always easy to do.

5. Don’t go to conferences. Attend a retreat instead

A 5-minute conversation and business card exchange during happy hour at a conference has its limits in terms of building long-term relationships. This is why I think a 5-6 person retreat of some sort that involves more than just talking about business could be much more powerful than a typical conference.  Imagine how well you’d get to know each other if a small group of people spent three or four days together.

If we’re going to discover what’s new in blogging and social media marketing, then we have to keep opening up ourselves to new people and new experiences by trying things we’ve never tried.

Please leave your ideas in the comment section about how you are energizing your network and feel free to leave the names of a few non-social media experts you enjoy learning from!

srini rao

Srinivas Rao writes about the things you should have learned in school, but never did and his the host-co founder of BlogcastFM.  You can follow him on twitter @skooloflife

Illustration courtesy of BigStock.com

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