Consider the bank of goodwill as your online networking strategy

online networking strategy

By Mark Schaefer

Here’s an exchange I had on LinkedIn the other day:

Person I never heard of before: HeyMark, what’s your favorite Pizza topping?

Me: Why would you want to know something strange like that?

It’s an ice breaker I use to start conversations. Everyone’s trying to sell something on LinkedIn 🙂

The goal is not to sell something. It is to befriend people and build relationships that lead to business benefits. You are a stranger to me so figure out a way to be a friend through mutual value exchange and then things happen

Very true. Can I send you some of the products I am developing? Say, a video explaining my process of growth hacking?

Just be a nice person. Help people. Pay attention to their needs. Don’t push stuff on them that they don’t want.

I get a lot of this sort of thing, and I understand it. Networking makes the world go ’round. But you need to have a networking strategy based on a “bank of goodwill.” Let me explain today how this works.

The power of reciprocity

There is a powerful human psychological driver around the idea of reciprocity. When somebody does you a favor, there is a powerful response to pay that favor back. Researchers show this exists in every culture on the planet. If somebody does something nice for you, you store that in your brain with a thought that some day, you have to pay that favor back.

Not every favor is the same, of course, especially on social media. A “like” requires very little personal investment and may hardly be noticed. But posting a kind review of person’s book or blog post or even sending them a gift can be a big deposit in the “bank of goodwill.”

If you make enough deposits in the bank of goodwill, at some point, you can feel entitled to make a withdrawal — asking for a favor in return. That’s how online networking works. So when anybody comes out of the blue asking to call me, or show me a demo of something, it NEVER works, because they have not made a deposit in the bank of goodwill. They are just strangers trying to get my precious time for free.

There are exceptions of course, I rarely say no to a student or a person in true need, but in terms of business networking, you need to pay attention to deposits in the bank.

The different types of banks

Not everybody has the same bank.

When I first started blogging nearly 10 years ago, I’ll never forget the thrill of receiving my first blog comment. Wow. Somebody actually took time to read my post and offer encouragement. What an amazing feeling. That was a deposit in the bank!

60,000 comments later, I still have that same feeling of appreciation, but it has a lower level of value deposit in my bank of goodwill, because there are just so many. A comment is still a wonderful act of kindness, but it doesn’t have the same impact like it did 10 years ago because the overall level of “noise” online has increased so much.

So the size of my “bank” has changed over the years. It may take five blog comments for a person to have my attention, compared to one in the old days.

On the other side, for a person just starting out in social media, a social share or a blog comment might be a huge deal!

It is going to take just a little bit of love to fill a new blogger’s bank. it would take a moderate amount of love to fill my bank to earn reciprocity. It would take an enormous amount of attention to earn a withdrawal from the bank of media stars like Seth Godin or Guy Kawasaki.

So, every person has a different “bank.”

The different types of deposits

Likewise, there are different values in the deposits that can fill a bank more quickly and earn reciprocity. Here is a scale completely made-up out of my head, but it would probably make sense to most people (lowest to highest)

  • A “Like”
  • A comment on a piece of content like a blog or video or social media post
  • A social share on Twitter
  • A social share on Facebook
  • A social share on LinkedIn
  • An email or post expressing appreciation
  • A recommendation on LinkedIn
  • A hand-written card or note
  • Publishing consistent content that helps me learn
  • A public Amazon review of a book
  • A physical token of appreciation through the mail
  • A post or video recommendation of my work
  • A face-to-face meeting
  • Hiring me to do a speech, workshop or consulting assignment
  • An extraordinary favor that helps me through a business problem (people have offered free photography or design services, for example)

There is probably some invisible point system for every person in the world. I don’t know what that is. Something like 20 tweets equals one LinkedIn recommendation. Probably different for everybody.

But the main point is, before you can earn the right to ask for favors, you have to deposit enough favors in the bank of goodwill. I hope this doesn’t come across as stuffy or crass. I am certainly not asking people to do me favors!

I’m simply trying to provide a rational and realistic view of how human nature works, because so many people seem to be missing out on this fact.

Friendship transcends all

Over time, something else happens that makes the bank go away. We become friends.

For my friends, there is no bank. We just support each other no matter what.

I’ve made more true friends over social media than I ever thought possible. I’ve had many social media-based friends call me with problems, cry on my shoulder, stay at my home.

For a true friend, there is no more psychological requirements of reciprocity. You just are. You just help. You just love forever.

This is why this “human” theme is embedded throughout so much of my work. “Humanity” is a word at the very top of my blog. Being the best human possible — being a friend — is what makes the business world truly work.

The whole social media world would be a lot more fun, a lot less toxic if we could keep that in mind, don’t you think?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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