Here’s a defensible theory: If you’re the founder of a social network, you’re probably pretty good at using it. Better yet, you probably know how the rest of us could benefit from it more than we do. You might even have some advice.
Reid Hoffman does. Hoffman, a cofounder of LinkedIn, recently coauthored The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career,a book filled with practical recommendations for treating business relationships like “living, breathing things.” (Portions of the book, which Hoffman cowrote with entrepreneur-author Ben Casnocha, appeared in the Feb. 6 edition of Fortune.)
Some of the recommendations are remarkably simple, including “Reid’s rules” for becoming a better networker. He breaks them into actions you can take in the next day, the next week, and the next month.
In the next day:
Look at your calendar for the past six months and identify the five people you spend the most time with — are you happy with their influence on you?
In the next week:
Introduce two people who do not know each other but ought to. Then think about a challenge you face and ask for an introduction to a connection in your network who could help.
Imagine you got laid off from your job today. Who are the 10 people you’d e-mail for advice? Don’t wait — invest in those relationships now.
In the next month:
Identify a weaker tie with whom you’d like to build an alliance. Help him by giving him a small gift — forward an article or job posting.
Create an “interesting people fund” to which you automatically funnel a certain percentage of your paycheck. Use it to pay for coffees and the occasional plane ticket to meet new people and shore up existing relationships.
Analyze Reid’s rules, and two clear themes emerge:
1. Invest now in the relationships you may need later.
2. The best way to “invest” is to help others.
It's not just business authors exploring the means of maximizing social networks. Men's Health, as it happens, recently published a fascinating article called "Why You Shouldn't Have More Than 354 Facebook Friends." The story emphasized how 354 friends were a tipping point "after which people were increasingly less happy with their lives."
Then there's Shelley Straitiff's compelling piece in The Charlotte Observer, where she argues that your total number of Twitter followers is largely an irrelevant statistic.
Likewise, a fascinating piece in CIO magazine by C.G. Lynch provides "three good reasons to beware of having too many LinkedIn connections."