The art of networking changes every time a new Snapchat is born.
But the principle of human connections making the difference for success will be fundamental as long as human beings care about relationships.
Last year, we reported on what we called The Rise of the Superconnector, a growing class of people whose profession is to help the overwhelmed masses unlock the value of their superfluous social connections—or make new connections en masse. In reality, "superconnectors" have operated since the birth of media, typically to connect people and ideas to communities, or businesses with audiences. But in the digital age, it’s easier than ever to both make connections and become a connector—so easy that we need help filtering the networking noise.
A superconnector is a person, group, or technology that holds the trust of a large group of people and has a means of reaching out to them directly. These two ingredients allow one to become a facilitator of smart connections.
Since last year’s Superconnector story, I’ve been deluged with emails touting examples of "superconnectors" that I should write about. Most of them, in reality, were regular people with good publicists. But after interviewing dozens of famously connected people and experts in business psychology about what makes for effective networking in the 21st century, an interesting pattern emerged among those who have truly managed to make superconnecting work.
"The only way is to build genuine authenticity," says Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council. "It's very difficult to be a nongenuine person and fool very smart people into thinking that you can provide value to the world and really care."
The traditional advice for building a network is to show up at events with the kinds of people you would like to meet, and hand out business cards. Put yourself in the right place, have a great elevator pitch, and be assertive in asking for help. Superconnector-savvy networkers, on the other hand, use a far more effective approach:
"Building a network is about building relationships that are both authentic and generous," says author Keith Ferrazzi. The old days, the term "networking" conjured up what he calls, "the networking jerk," he says. "More about quantity than quantity, who was more usury than generous. I don’t believe that works today."
For those of us who want to harness the power of superconnectors, there’s a simple formula: instead of asking for things, provide value.
"I don’t know if there’s a word that’s the opposite of schadenfreude, but it’s the opposite of schadenfreude," says superconnector Linda Rottenberg, founder of Endeavor and author of Crazy Is a Compliment. Successful networkers look out for others first, adds Elliot Bisnow, superconnector founder of Summit Series. "They listen, they care, they want to help, they want to engage."
After touring various models for superconnecting in business, I've pinpointed five main styles and 15 superlative people who do it right, and sometimes even make a living doing it. Here’s hoping that their stories can help us network a little smarter, no matter how bonkers the future becomes:
They say it's better to teach a man to fish than to give him a trout. This brand of superconnector's focus is on putting fishing poles in the hands of those who lack them.
This Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Dell has come a long way from living in her car just a few years ago. A business-builder and prolific speaker with a relentless schedule, Vanderveldt has made waves with her personal mission to "empower a billion women." Through the computer giant, she matches promising women with mentorship and tools, knowing that relationship with Dell will be built organically if people are successful.
"I believe if we're going to get our global world where we want it to be, we really need to do it through a new set of eyes," Vanderveldt says. "We're here to create the win-win, and if we do that, our vision is that you're going to make way more money than we would ever make off of this deal."
2. Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavor Global
The author of the upcoming Crazy Is A Compliment has helped thousands of struggling entrepreneurs around the world find "Social Capital" by connecting them with successful executives who've trod the road before. The nonprofit's latest stat: 50,000+ hours of mentorship brokered per year.
A notoriously giving networker, Dow's philosophy for aspiring connectors: "Start doing favors for others and earn a reputation for being generous."
4. Jessica Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Play
Matthews shows how inventors can be superconnectors with her electricity-generating soccer ball, Socckett. Through it, she empowers kids to come together to play, while connecting their villages to the grid at the same time.
5. Dharmesh Shah: Hubspot, OnStartups, and INBOUND
A self-proclaimed introvert, Shah's managed to build a massive company (Hubspot) while cultivating two thriving ecosystems where entrepreneurs and marketers can connect and make lives easier (OnStartups and Inbound). He's known as "Boston's biggest superconnector" and he recently brought 8,000 people together at the INBOUND Summit.
(Full disclosure: Shah was an early angel investor in my company.)
If The Empowerer is about providing fishing poles, The Curator tries to put the right fish in ponds together, for maximum mutual value:
Responsible for popularizing the term "superconnector" itself, Gerber runs the world's largest vetted networking club for business-builders under 40. While his personal introductions regularly lead to seven-figure business deals—of which he takes no cut—Gerber is most proud of having built a culture of entrepreneurs who look out for one another before looking out for number one.
"The hustler instinct is, 'I gotta get to the top as fast as I can, find the access point,'" Gerber says. "But in a situation where you have to build relationships, it takes real time. Don’t try to fake it. You can’t instantly have kinsman ship with somebody until you’ve shown the kind of person you are."
7. Steffi Czerny, cofounder of the Digital Life Design conference (DLD)
The beloved organizer of one of the world's largest conferences for digital changemakers, Czerny prides herself on connecting up-and-comers with audiences that will listen. Case in point: she got both Lady Gaga and Mark Zuckerberg on stage before either was cool.
Possibly the most well-connected behavioral scientist you've never heard of, Levy hosts a wildly popular, invite-only monthly dinner where celebrities, business-builders, Olympians, and other superlative characters cook a meal together—but can't talk about what they do until after they start eating, when Levy makes everyone guess what the others do. "The problems that we face as a culture require bringing people together," Levy says. "But the gala model is dumb. I suggest intimate events."
Some superconnectors act more like sharpshooters, brokering high-powered one-on-one introductions rather than creating environments or providing mass access:
9. Mitch Kanner, CEO of 2Degrees
Founder of 2DegreesVentures, Kanner is the man you don't know is behind some of the most splashy celebrity/product integrations in pop culture, from Samsung's celebrity smartphones to AT&T and Kiefer Sutherland. Kanner's mission is to cut out middlemen and other barriers and connect talent directly to ventures they believe in and products to fans who'll appreciate them rather than begrudge the interruption.
Though he eschews the spotlight, everyone in Hollywood seems to know him. Says Brillstein Entertainment's Jon Liebman, "[Kanner's talent] is being able to authentically speak to the needs of all sides."
10. Gavin Purcell, Producer, The Tonight Show
One of the nerds behind G4's Attack of the Show and now producer for The Tonight Show, Purcell is a unique brand of superconnector, with a legacy of introducing obscure acts and technologies to his friend, Jimmy Fallon. "I came from a different place than a lot of the people that normally work in these shows come from," Purcell says. "The benefit of me being here and having had a foot in this world and a foot in that world is that I can bridge those two gaps."
"I never really liked the word networking," says the CEO of Gerson-Lehrman Group, which pairs world-class experts with people who need precise expertise. "I prefer conversations and teaching."
Some people simply know people. But rather than hoard their networks to themselves, this brand of superconnector prides her/himself on spreading the love—but only when it makes sense to both parties.
Once called by Inc. Magazine, "The best-connected 21-year-old in the world," Jain is known for Kairos Society, which helps young entrepreneurs connect and tackle global-scale social challenges, and Humin, a mobile app that organizes your connections. But he's perhaps better known for simply knowing that so-and-so should meet so-and-so, and would you like an intro?
13. Keith Ferrazzi, founder of the consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight
The guy who wrote the original book on superconnecting (Never Eat Alone) is, unsurprisingly, both a human rolodex and a generous introducer. As long as, he says, the connection is going to be "authentic."
The Organizer seeks to add structure to our overwhelming connections (with social media, most of us have more "friends" than we have capacity to maintain), and simultaneously provide access to quality new ones:
14. Claudia Batten, founder of networking app Broadli
A serial entrepreneur behind market successes like Massive and Victors & Spoils, Batten—who's known for her generous introductions—recently turned her attention to helping people reduce the noise and help others within their LinkedIn networks with her new mobile app, Broadli. "Broadli’s goal is to digitize the serendipity that happens when you meet that exact right person at the exact right time," the company writes.
15. Robyn Scott, cofounder of OneLeap
This enterprising bioscientist has a habit of building organizations to connect people for social good: she matches social entrepreneurs with executives through OneLeap, orphan caregivers with teachers through MothersForAll, former inmates with dignified work through BrothersForAll, and is currently writing a book about maximum security prisoners who've adopted AIDS orphans.
In 2011, the founders of NerdMachine (and talent behind the hit series Chuck) created Conversations For A Cause, wherein geeky fans can pay a small amount to meet their geek heroes from television and ask questions, and all the money goes to Operation Smile. "Asking Joss Whedon a question is going to be one of the highlights of a person’s fan life," Coleman says. "Connecting people is what it’s all about."
For a deeper look at superconnecting, check out Snow's new book, Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, released this month via HarperBusiness.