In the 1980s, anthropologist Robin Dunbar used brain sizes and other data to calculate the largest number of people with whom a typical person could have a social relationship. That number was 150, and it became known as Dunbar's number. Since that time, Dunbar has updated the number of names and faces that people can juggle in social situations, increasing that maximum to 1,500.
Fast forward to 2016, when people with top LinkedIn profiles claim hundreds of thousands of followers and celebrities tweet to tens of millions on Twitter. Apparently, either Dunbar was wrong, or networking in the 21st century is a lot different from what it has been throughout human history.
Michael Goldberg, an author and networking expert, is an adjunct public speaking professor at Rutgers University, and consults with organizations through his company, Knockout Networking. Business News Daily asked him about the current state of networking and how it has changed with the rise of social media. [See Related Story: Networking As an Entrepreneur: 3 Steps to Make a Connection]
Business News Daily: How did you get into consulting on networking?
Michael Goldberg: When I started my business 16 years ago, it had a different market and different name. At the time I was hired to teach leadership skills. It wasn't my favorite thing to do but I was pretty good at it. Then I was asked to talk at a conference about networking. I said, "Isn't networking just something you do?" I didn't think there was anything to it.
In the midst of the presentation, something happened. I put the remote down, forgot I had slides and just talked. I realized I had stumbled upon something I was meant to be doing. I was passionate about connecting with people and teaching others to do the same.
BND: What did you discover about the importance of networking?
Goldberg: You can't accomplish anything in business without developing relationships with other people. With LinkedIn and social media and social selling being so prevalent now, and with so many people relying on technology, the ability to create a personal touch is more important now than ever.
BND: How did the rise of social networking affect business networking?
Goldberg: Online, it's all about the numbers. If you're into it for social reasons, that's enough. But for business, you have to have a strategy. It's not just about having your numbers be large — which isn't always important — but about having connections be deep. Creating connections online is about creating engagement and adding value and ultimately establishing offline what you've established online.
BND: What are most people's biggest obstacles to better networking?
Goldberg: One of the biggest obstacles is the fear of talking to a stranger — going up to somebody you don't know, introducing yourself [and] asking them for business.
BND: Is asking for business an essential part of networking?
Goldberg: It's a very small part of networking. You shouldn't be going to events and asking people for business. That's selling, not networking. Networking is speaking to an individual in the hope of learning about them and potentially helping them. It's not about pitching and selling. It's about learning and helping. If you go to the right places, say the right things and meet the right people, learn from them and help them, they'll tend to help you right back. That's really what networking is.
Having a target market makes it easier to determine where you need to go, what you need to say and to whom you need to say it. You can target an industry, a market segment, a demographic or a geography. The more specific you are, the more opportunities will start to find their way to you rather than you having to find your way to them.
BND: What are realistic goals of networking? What can and can't it accomplish?
Goldberg: There are five reasons why people network: to get more business, to land a job, to learn something, for social reasons and to solve a very specific problem. For example, my mom has a rare form of Parkinson's disease. As I'm speaking at events, I might bring that up to see if I can learn something that might help. I find that every motive falls into one of those five.
BND: What if you just aren't comfortable networking? How can you get started?
Goldberg: Start to read up on what networking really is, so you have some education behind you. The second is to actually go to an event where there's a low cost of entry, like a Chamber of Commerce meeting, and practice some of the things you're reading about. Introduce yourself to people, ask some questions and, when they ask you questions, have succinct, focused yet articulate answers.
Ultimately, you're looking to create a "we" dynamic as in, "How can we help one another?" If you can create this dynamic, you're probably doing it right. You don't go to networking events to look for your next prospect, although that can happen. You are looking for your next referral source.
BND: Will social media continue to grow in importance for networking?
Goldberg: I think social media is going to continue to grow. The social selling concept is going to become more prevalent because more business people are figuring out how to monetize LinkedIn. But I think face-to-face networking is going to become more important, because the personal touch is going to become more important.
You don't have to go to events to be a good networker. You can network from your seat using LinkedIn. But if you're really focused on meeting new people, going to events is still one of the best ways to do that. And if you like to socialize a little bit, it can be fun.