I coined the term “Onion Networker” to be able to talk about networking in a new way. Two terms that have polarized the social networking space get in the way of the discussion: open and closed networking.
- Open networkers generally accept a connection with anyone who requests one with few exceptions.
- Closed networkers generally refuse to connect with anyone who has not shaken their hand or knows them well through phone or email conversations.
A common element of both online networking styles is they each have a core group they know well – which is the core of the onion. One is not correct and the other incorrect. The onion networking model allows for networkers to add as many layers as they feel comfortable with. You no longer have to fit into “open” or “closed.”
The onion networking model. Just as an onion has many layers, so do networkers. The external layers are full of people you don’t know or don’t know well. As you peel back the layers of your network (visualize pealing the layers from an onion) you find people you have more shared experiences with and stronger relationships until you reach your trusted core.
Onion Networking in the physical world goes like this. The goal of networking is to meet and build relationships with people you do not know yet. To meet new people we go to events were we don’t know everyone. We start meeting people as the event progresses.
- One person at a mixer we only trade cards and file the card in case we may need it in the future.
- Another we may chat with for 10 minutes and learn something useful and make a note on the card to be sure we remember them.
- Still another person at the mixer you connect with strongly, have a common interest in ABC sport and also a common membership in ABG organization. This last person’s card gets put in the center of your desk and you also make a note in your planner to call them in two days after they have returned from the trip they told you about.
This is onion networking in the physical world. You meet a lot of people you did not know before and determine how much of a connection there is: what layer of the onion they currently occupy.
Onion networking in the online world, specifically on Linkedin, is much the same. I accept every connection unless it has no name associated with it or is clearly not legitimate. I have had maybe 5 of these in about 4,000 connections.
I respond to the connections that look interesting to me with some questions like:
- Why did you connect?
- How can I help you?
- Sometimes I ask different questions. Something to start a conversation.
- There are hundreds of questions you could use for this step.
This is very similar to making small talk in the physical networking event. Sometimes the conversation continues and sometimes it does not: just like in the physical world.
As an onion networker some connections start as core connections (the center of the onion) and others start on the outer layer with only an electronic connection. Some on the outer layer of the onion I try to strike up a conversation and move them to a layer closer to the core of my onion network.
The equivalent to a closed networker in the physical world is a person who avoids networking mixers where they don’t know all of the people there.
You may already be an onion networker online and off without realizing it. The key idea of an online onion networker is: Linkedin is a tool to get to know new contacts better, not just a big rolodex to keep track of all the people you already well.
There is a LOT you can do on Linkedin even if you are using it only as a electronic rolodex (closed networker with only the core of the onion) so don’t think that if a person does not feel comfortable connecting with everyone, that their networking has failed.
Doing something is another key part of an onion networker. You buy an onion to cook with it, not to tell your friends how many you have. Linkedin is a tool you DO SOMETHING with. Make new connections. Learn more about them. Help them become clients, customers or solid networking partners.
You may not advertise yourself as an “open” networker, but you may accept some invitations and ignore others. You can have just a core – the closed networker – or you can add as many layers to your networking onion as you desire.
Below are two networkers that have changed my networking life. Both are open networkers, so feel free to send them a Linkedin invitation. Be sure to tell them where you got their name: we all love to know where connections come from.
Carol Deckert http://www.linkedin.com/in/caroldeckert
Flyn Penoyer http://www.linkedin.com/in/flynpenoyer
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