April 17, 2012

With appreciation to Leah Swartz, Journalism student at the University of Kansas, who asked how I would suggest connecting with a large group of people when time or distance or other obstacles rule out truly getting to know them on an individualized, face-to-face, one-on-one basis, I’ve been pondering the notion of what I will call “one-to-many networking.”  To help illustrate what this concept means, it stands in stark contrast to one-to-one networking, my preferred approach. 

One-to-many networking is a means of building relationships with a large group of people in one fell swoop.  Somehow touching a group of individuals through speechmaking, promotional campaigns or the like to connect with a sizable target audience in a way that makes each audience member feel like he/she is the one to whom you, the speaker, are talking to directly – like he/she is the most important person in the room.

Truth told, I don’t have a silver bullet answer.  Normally, I would simply call one-to-many networking something fancy like “marketing” or “PR,” but Leah’s question prompted me to refine my consideration.  Here’s what I have come up with:

  1. Write a blog.  OK, OK, this may seem self-serving, but, hey, here we are… you and me.  We may never have spoken.  We may not know what the other looks like.  But, I feel – and hope you do, too, like we have a relationship.  I write this blog for YOU.  Sure, I write it for me, too, but without the support and encouragement of readers like you, there would really be no point, right?  Nobody is more surprised than I am that anybody is interested in what I have to say about networking.  But the deal is this:  I know, instinctively, that I have valuable information to share on the topic.  I am living proof of the value of networking – having lived it, I feel compelled to share my knowledge with anyone who cares to hear it.  So, what is your topic?  What are you an expert on – or, simply, very opinionated about – that others would find interesting, entertaining, valuable, objectionable, readable?  You can begin building relationships now, with a large readership, that will feel very personal, very individualized, very one-on-one.
  2. Host an event.  Make it a teaching moment.  In what venue, city, conference, etc. does your target audience hang out?  Be there.  Host an event for them. Be prepared to teach them something.  Your gift to them should be some valuable bit of information that they would not naturally come across on their own or through any other provider… the latest technique in garden tending for the horticultural crowd, a hot tip on maximizing efficiency for the over-worked and stressed-out bunch, the latest trend in healthy hors d’oeuvres for the wellness conscious.  Follow it up with drinks and snacks and mingling.  I guarantee if you promise to provide valuable information that is relevant and useful to your target audience – and actually deliver on that promise – you will certainly build the personal relationships you seek.
  3. Share a story.  As I have suggested in posts before, storytelling is paramount to engaging others in a dialogue.  If your approach to reaching out to your target audience is through a promotional marketing campaign (be it social media, print media, email campaigns or whatever), be sure that you structure your message in terms of a story.  Bring your audience along with you.  Incorporate the right amount of mystery and intrigue.  Build your campaign into a series with suspenseful cliffhangers that leave them wanting more.  You can do this with words, pictures, videos – whatever you do, incorporate imagery to ensure your audience members can relate to your product/service, be mindful to understand what is important to them, be easy to do business with in the sense that they can easily jump in to the story at any point along the way.
  4. Give a speech.  It is feasible that you could incorporate above noted items 1, 2 and 3 and prepare a speech for a conference, a business meeting or a similar event on a topic that you care passionately about.  By sharing your thoughts in a formal setting, you have the potential to reach a huge audience – in person, via simulcast or webinar, and, perhaps, later via video-on-demand (e.g. on YouTube or your own website) if you record it.  Irrespective of the size of the audience, you also have the potential to personally touch several individuals who will each feel like you were speaking directly to them.  [For inspiration, you could watch any of a number of TED Talks – simply look for a topic that interests you and enjoy!]

So, though I’m no expert on this particular topic – that is, one-to-many networking – I was able to come up with a few ways to make this part of my – and your – networking repertoire.  Are you an expert on this topic?  I invite your suggestions on how to make one-to-many networking work for our CoffeeLunchCoffee community.  Please, educate us!