From Filofax to Messaging Apps
Not so long ago it was common for business people to keep a record of their most valued professional contacts in a Rolodex, or Filofax, or at least written down somewhere. And almost all 'networking' was done in person.
Then the internet happened and our connections became digital. At first this meant 'connecting' on professional networking platforms like LinkedIn. With the more recent dominance of mobile our contacts have migrated to our phones' address books.
Understandably many have chased volume of contacts - as this gives the sense of a wider network and greater access to others. At the same time our personal and professional lives have become harder to separate as we're connected 24hrs/day to both at the same time, in real time, via our phones.
The problem this evolution has created
We have amassed hundreds, sometimes thousands, of contacts on platforms like LinkedIn, but often with people we don't really know. The experience is no longer professional networking but contact management, sales and marketing.
Our phone's address books meanwhile have also become more polluted over time and we have no way to disentangle the personal from the professional.
As a result, we are suffering from too much noise, too much volume and not enough value.
We stay in touch effectively with those few we work with but we have lost our 'little black book' of contacts who we know and value. They no longer exist in any one place, or list, we can turn to.
This group now exists in our minds or scattered across various apps and platforms where we have little control.
A new model for professional networking in the digital age
So how do we combine the power of digital communications with the reality, as the Dunbar number teaches us, that we cannot really know more than about 150 people properly? How can we reclaim control of our professional network in a way that delivers real meaning and value?
Guild proposes the model below as a framework for how you should approach professional networking in the digital age:
The model explained
There are five circles of increasing numbers each with its own characteristics and means of communication and management:
1. Inner Core
Description: Those who know you best, who you most trust and give you most support. You are most open and honest about your concerns and vulnerabilities. Could include mentors, coaches, (former) bosses/managers, long term (former) colleagues etc.
Communication tools: In person, phone, txt, messaging (e.g. Guild).
2. Personal Boardroom
Description: Those whose expertise you recognise and whose advice you respect. Your “go to” people when you seek help. Could include those like inner core but also include professionals advisers, consultants, intimate professional support groups.
Communication tools: In person, phone, email, messaging (e.g. Guild).
3. Little Black Book
Description: You recognise each other, have met in person, know what each other do and show reciprocity - you would respond and help each other out. Can include (former) customers, suppliers, colleagues, peers with whom you have a valued relationship.
Communication tools: In person (occasional), email (although becoming hard to get through), messaging (e.g. Guild).
4. Professional Network
Description: Those you can contact directly but do not know well and cannot rely on to respond.
Communication tools: LinkedIn (although you can no longer export your connections' email addresses), email (increasingly ineffective), Facebook (used professionally by some), CRM systems (rarely used by individuals).
5. Sphere of Influence
Description: Those you can reach and influence but you do not know personally.
Communication tools: LinkedIn (when used for content marketing), Facebook (when used for professional social media marketing), Twitter (personal professional use), Blog / Website (personal business blogging and other website content), Video (e.g. professional presence on YouTube), Audio (e.g. business podcast).
The academic and scientific inspiration behind the model
The model is inspired by the work of Professor Robin Dunbar, who sits on Guild's advisory board, and is a world-renowned anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist who has studied how human networks and relationships work.
He is best known for "Dunbar's Number": a cognitive limit for humans which means we can maintain only around 150 stable relationships at any one time. For professional networking this means that our 'little black book' of connections who we actually know, and how they relate to us, cannot be more than around 150. This is a limitation of the human brain that digital communications does not change.
According to Dunbar's research there are circles within the 150 of 50, 15 and 5 and these are echoed in the model.
The model is also inspired by the thinking of others including Zella King and Amanda Scott who created 'The Personal Boardroom' based on evidence from academic studies of the networks of high-performers. Their mission is to help people build the network they need to succeed. They say:
"Networking is not about meeting new people or adding connections on LinkedIn. What’s important is investing time with a few people – most likely people who you already know. Think of these people as members of your Personal Boardroom."
In the Personal Boardroom model there are 12 roles you need to support you most effectively.
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