CAREER DEVELOPMENT / MAY. 14, 2014
version 3, draft 3

How to Build Social Capital

We live in a world of social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, tumblr...the list goes on and on. And while we might debate the value of these platforms, there is no debate that our social relationships do indeed have value and importance. That’s the central belief behind social capital, that our various social networks have value. More specifically, it refers to the quantity and quality of the relationships, institutions, and accepted norms that dictate our social interactions.

Your social networks - both virtual/online and real - have worth and advantage for you and the other people within the network. That should be rather obvious. We’ve all heard the expression “it’s all who you know”, and social capital reinforces that claim. Who you know is important, but so is what you do for each other (and not just in a mutually selfish “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of way). This is referred to as the “norms of reciprocity”.

Being a member of a group or network (professional or otherwise), and benefiting in some way (while ideally also bringing benefit to others) is social capital at work. It’s our relationships that bring value, worth, and advantage to our lives.

Want to increase your social capital? Looking to add to its total worth? Here’s a few ideas to build it from the ground up.

Quality Over Quantity

You’ve heard the advice before about going to networking events in your industry or niche. And yes, it is important. But don’t mistake the quantity of people you meet (likely to never hear or speak to again) for forging quality relationships. It’s never been a numbers game. Be selective. Do some research beforehand. If you can see a guest list of people attending, identify those individuals you most want to meet...for whatever reason. Seek them out. Talk. Listen. Engage. It’s infinitely better to leave an event with a handful of new contacts for people you are really connected with, rather than a stack of business cards that will end up in a drawer or the trash. Send a quick note or email telling them how great it was to meet them. Remember: Quality outweighs quantity.

Create a Group or Forum

Instead of asking or applying to join someone else’s group, club, or forum, consider starting your own. You’ll meet like-minded individuals, with the added bonus of being more visible and memorable as the group leader or administrator. You’ll establish quality connections without even trying.

Volunteer

Volunteer your time in some way. Not only does volunteering have tremendous benefits (fights depression, increases social skills and confidence), but you’ll also be meeting new people as a by-product; people that care about the same things you do. Help clean up your neighbourhood, be a Big Brother or Sister, work at a soup kitchen. Do anything and everything, even if only for an hour each week.

Go Above and Beyond

When it comes to our relationships, most of us do the bare minimum to maintain some sort of connection. Think about your Facebook “friends”. How many do you actually consider to be true friendships?. Most likely, you occasionally like or comment on something they post, and you may leave a curt “happy birthday” on their wall each year. That’s it. Go above and beyond with the relationships you want to cultivate. Again, being selective is key, as you can’t give the time and energy required to do this with your 1254 “friends” and followers. Call them or meet up with them whenever possible. If it’s a customer you want to keep and cultivate, do a follow-up after providing your service or after they purchased your product. Check in with them.

Organise a Social Event

Similar to the suggestion about starting your own club or group, a one-off event (or something monthly, or even weekly, if you’re really ambitious) can make you a star. Plan a fundraiser for the local school. Organise a networking event for people in your industry (and invite those you most want to meet). This can be anything that brings a segment of the population together for some reason. Whether it’s professional or informal doesn’t matter; seeing it through does.

Support Your Local Community

Too many people today don’t know the people around them; people in the neighbourhood, people in their office building or their community at large. Our parents and grandparents took the time to get to know the people around them. You should do likewise. Support your local businesses, introduce yourself to the owners, Say “hello” to people in the elevator, or as you pass on the street. You’ll be surprised how quickly and positively people reciprocate to that kind of behaviour.

Teach a Class

If you have expertise in something (and we all do), offer to teach a class or seminar on it. It increases your visibility and authority on the subject (win), provides a valuable service to those around you (win), and allows you to meet new people (win).

Take a Class

On the flipside, take a class for something you’ve always wanted to learn of get better at...cooking, gardening, building a website, coding, a new language. Aside from getting the new skill, you open yourself up to yet another social network full of like-minded individuals.

The possibilities for building your social capital are endless. They key is to do something, but with an eye on creating quality connections while bettering yourself and/or others. Online social media platforms can be one method you use, but don’t limit yourself. Real life connections are simply better and more genuine. You shouldn’t always have an ulterior motive when doing something, but recognise that a bit more time and effort spent on building and maintaining connections has benefits for all.

 

Photo by Aaron Goodwin

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