If you want to get anywhere in life, you will need something much more than networking. You need social capital.
Growing up I was the quiet, awkward kid.
Even now at 26, I still resort to my natural tendencies in social situations when I feel awkward.
I struggle with small talk and tend to look at the ground when speaking to other people.
Couple that with the fact I’d rather be left alone, it’s a miracle I’ve lasted this long in the adult world.
Sure, my social skills need some polishing. Networking and meeting new people aren’t my forte.
Nevertheless, I’ve managed to cultivate new and beneficial relationships over the past two years that have lead me to the precipice of my dream: self-employment.
How? By building social capital.
What is Social Capital?
I didn’t coin the term social capital. It’s a widely known sociology term that’s been prevalent in recent years. Wikipedia summarizes it best:
Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation, and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good. (Italics mine)
In other words, social capital drives the progress of not just networks, but also individuals.
As people contribute their skills and talents to a network they belong to (church, business, non-profit, etc.), both the network and individual benefit.
When you become someone who contributes more than they take, your social capital to grows.
Why is Social Capital Important?
Networking is still a cornerstone of adult life. However, some people get too hung up on how many people they are “connected” to.
The typical mantra preached at job fairs and universities is: It’s who you know.
While there is some truth to that statement, a better rephrasing would be: Know who needs you.
A year and a half ago, I was Joe Shmo blogger. Fixated on growing the number in my audience, I completely ignored providing them value. I took more than I gave.
I was getting nowhere.
Then one day I shared another blogger’s post on Twitter.
The blogger reached out to thank me and offered to guest post on my blog.
In return, I wrote a post for his blog.
Then he helped me edit my book.
Then I helped him format his book.
And even after 10 months, the cycle continues today. Needless to say, if it weren’t for Todd offering to help me without expecting anything in return, I probably wouldn’t be blogging today.
For that reason, I would do anything for Todd. Having one person who will say yes to anything you ask is more valuable than having a stack of business cards.
That’s why social capital is so important.
3 Ways to Grow Your Social Capital
To wrap up I leave you with this incomplete list of ways you can grow your personal social capital.
[ONE] Focus on a few relationships
Besides Todd, there is Alex, Zak, Case, Erica, Isaac, and a handful of other folks.
I give to them as much as I can muster without expecting anything in return. But you know what, they always come through for me.
Don’t spread yourself too thin.
[TWO] Do something unexpected for others
You’d be surprised how many people quickly read things on the internet without trying to reach out to the author to thank them.
From personal experience, a simple Tweet acknowledging the author and their work can go a long way.
The same principle applies in the “real world.” Make sure people know you appreciate them.
[THREE] Only ask once you’ve built enough social capital
This one isn’t necessarily a way to grow your social capital but it’s a way to prevent you from going broke.
Once you’ve built up enough social capital with a network or individual, only then can you “cash in” some of that capital for an ask.
It could be something small like, Hey do you mind sharing my blog post on social media? Or it can be as big as, Hey can you refer me to your boss for a job?
Either way, make sure you have some social capital stored away. Because once you go broke, it’s hard to make any social capital back.