Build Your Personal Learning Networks by Giving Back


In last week’s blog, Doris outlined the many benefits of building networks and working out loud. Sounds easy, no? If you haven’t worked this way before, you may answer, No! How do you begin to build networks for learning and sharing if you are new to this way of working, come from or are in a hierarchical culture, or don’t really have an established learning network to begin with? It can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be.

We don’t have to remind you again that we are in a brave new world – the connected online world. Most of us have a purpose for interacting with others online on a fairly regular basis. We use Facebook, Instagram, and other social network sites to share news and pictures with family and friends, find and share videos, highlight political or social causes, or perhaps get recipes. I go to OpenTable or TripFinder to find restaurants in a new area I will visit, read the reviews by diners, and decide where to eat based on what I find from the crowdsourced consensus as well as food magazines. The principle underlying these sites is that everyone is contributing to the common good for the benefit of us all. You do get the disgruntled review once in a while, but can filter those out based on what the vast majority of posters are saying (unless there is universal panning of a place, which does happen!).

It is this giving back to the commons that underlies building networks and connections. This is the important value to bring to the share process.

Begin to Build Your Network

In her blog last week, Doris quoted these three questions from John Stepper about beginning the work out loud process:

What am I trying to accomplish? Who can help me? How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationship?

Start with your purpose, identify what you need to learn to achieve it, investigate who can help you, and also think about what and how you can contribute (blog, tweet, resources, post in a discussion?) from what you learn, accomplish, and do.

Others agree that giving back is key to network building. Even the face-to-face networking strategy has changed from meeting as many people as you can and collecting as many business cards as you can to creating meaningful connections with a few people to explore common interests.connections-990699_640

Andrew Vest in this Forbes article, How to Network the Right Way: Eight Tips articulates networking as building connections. Although his tips are for face-to-face networking events, they hold true for online network building as well:

In its purest form, it’s about people enjoying other people, communicating passions and connecting with others who share those passions. It’s about listening, figuring out what others need and connecting them with people you think can help, without any designs for personal gain. The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive. They go beyond thinking, “What’s in it for me?” to ask “How can I help?”

His tips include:

  1. Start networking before you need it – find out who the leaders in your field of interest are and start following them on social media or their web site or blog. Join discussion groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and professional associations that are examining topics of interest to you. Contribute to the discussion on a regular basis to become known as a thoughtful, valuable resource and to identify people you want to further connect with based on what they post.
  2. Have a plan – since time is valuable, plan out what topics, people, or groups to join to help you with the problem or task you want to accomplish within the time you have available.
  3. Forget your personal agenda – be genuinely interested in the topic or group. Don’t join to promote yourself or just get help without reciprocity.
  4. Never dismiss anyone as unimportant – be welcoming and polite to anyone you connect with. You never know what value they may bring. Ask appreciative questions when you disagree. Back up your statements with solid resources and sources, and ask others to do the same.
  5. Connect the dots – be generous and share resources and people. Add value to a person, group, or the conversation.
  6. Figure out how you can be useful – offer your help to explore topics more deeply with another person or smaller group, but be sure you are really interested in the problem or topic so you will actually contribute to widening the learning.
  7. Follow up and follow through – do what you say you are willing to do. Don’t let others down by promising action but not accomplishing it. Connect with those you want to know better via email, Twitter, or the communication method of their choice. Making personal connections builds relationships.
  8. Believe in the power of networking – Vest ends his article this way:

When you believe that the true value of networking lies in helping others and you do your part, you’ll soon discover magic happening all around you. The beauty of this approach is that you never know when that magic may cast its spell on you.

Utilize Social Mediasocial-media-803648_640

Social media is a great way to quickly enter into conversations, monitor topic threads, and identify people who you want to follow and keep up with. This more casual way of building networks often leads to sustained interactions.

Twitter and LinkedIn are valuable ways to connect with information, topics, and people as well as give back to the commons. Using Twitter hashtags to follow specific topics, people, or events helps to aggregate posts. Using RSS aggregators such as Feedly and Hootsuite can organize people and groups you follow in one place. Doris and I follow the people we often quote here in our blog on Twitter, and subscribe to their blogs via RSS feeds. We tweet or retweet their work when we want to emphasize their posts, and they return the favor. For example, Harold Jarche has generously tweeted out our blog posts of the last two weeks resulting in people in his network following our blog and Twitter account. Doris reached out to thank him and had a warm, fun Twitter exchange with him. A personal example of giving back, forming personal connections, and expanding our network.

LinkedIn University has a clear easy to follow pdf on How to Network on LinkedIn. Geared to job seekers, it contains helpful suggestions for expanding your learning network whether you are a job seeker or want to expand your learning reach. You guessed it – Lend a Virtual hand is one of the tips.

Join Google Hangouts, Slack Chat Playgrounds, Tweet Chats, and webinars. Contribute to the chat, and identify those whose chat posts intrigue or provide valuable resources. Connect with them after the event.

Dive In!

Remember to start with your purpose.  Find those who will help you accomplish your purpose, and learn with them. Share your learning and share their learning, too. Give back to the commons, be generous, genuine, and interested. Building a social learning network is an adventure – you never know where it will take you or who you will meet!

What are your experiences with building your learning networks? What tips do you have for us? How did you begin and expand your networks?

Resources used in this blog:

Minda Zetlin, How to Network Like You Really Mean It,, 2014

Taunee Besson, Six Tips for Successful Networking,

Andrew Vest, How to Network the Right Way: Eight Tips,, 2014

University, How to Network on LinkedIn, The Right Way to Network on Social Media, 2015

John Stepper, Working Outloud Circle Guides

WikiHow to do anything: Networks: Part 2 – Using the Internet to Network

Graphics from the talented artists at Pixabay

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