March, 26, 2021

Building Social Capital in a Distanced World

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If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of casual and incidental interactions, going to work, handshakes, hugs, random meet-ups, networking events, cocktail parties, birthday parties, weddings, any event that required dressing up, had hearty laughter and meant that we would meet new people, old friends and so much more. What we thought of as normal and had often taken for granted has been replaced by a new normal that is defined by social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing and work from home. We’ve gone from the “world is your oyster” to staring at the four walls that are our homes. This has created an unprecedented interruption to our physical social interaction, which in turn has serious implications for social capital which is primarily built, maintained and realized by social interaction. Social capital is linked to physical and mental health and plays a vital role in meeting the requirements of everyday life. For most people social capital is very important for getting by.

However, unlike past pandemics, we now have communication technologies that make it easier to maintain and even build our social capital. While some people may have been already familiar with the technologies, we realize that for others the shift to remote social interaction has been comprehensive, disruptive and incredibly challenging. There are uncertainties about how to use these technologies appropriately and effectively, and this may create missed opportunities to build and maintain social capital.

During the Sankalp Africa Summit 2021, we held a session: Building Social Capital in a Distanced World, with Andy Narracott, Sheena Raikundalia and Peter Ngunyi, that facilitated participants to dive in and explore their utility of online social media platforms and digital tools. It offered a guide on how to:

• develop simple strategies that build deeper connections with existing contacts
• establish burgeoning relationships with new connections,
• balancing work productivity and life at home in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic,
• and really redefine what it means to keep in touch in the digital world

How to be a Networking Ninja

The anxiety and awkwardness for networking online is very common: picking which platform to use and not reaching out because thinking other people are too busy, or you’re too busy; sometimes in the process getting distracted by other online/offline activities e.g. chats & app notifications or commitments
3-point strategy for building connections:

(i) Show up: This is the basic for networking. How to network and how to grow your network begins with a bit of research, by analyzing the target demographic of the people you want to reach out to in your network: investors, foundations etc. Perhaps the first time (cold connections as well), try to be brief and set the tone by first introducing yourself – and then do some more research on their connections and follow up 5 to 6 days later. A network is not a one-time call and you never speak to them again, it is a people you have an ongoing relationship with.
(ii) Be curious in those conversations: “Be human, don’t be methodical”. Learn how to respond by listening actively and processing accountably i.e. the ability to repeat one or two sentences – this increases the likelihood of the other person responding because it tells them that you’ve been listening and have understood or are curious enough to request clarification
(iii) Have a digital system in place: i.e. a personal CRM is essential when you’re growing your network. It’s a creative template before/during having a chat with people in your network. Something that helps you collect and store some personal information about people in your network so you can keep up with them. You can also set reminders such as birthdays and work anniversaries, and use professional tags to forward them content such as links to articles.

The Do’s & Don’ts of LinkedIn (& networking in general)

Given the number and variety of platforms, pick one that works best for you and complements your attitudes on frequency of use, activity & level of interactions, content structure & the length of posts. Whatever flows naturally is most likely what you’re going to be best at.

The WHY, the WHAT & the HOW strategy.

WHY? “Why am I using a social networking platform?” This addresses the purpose of using the platform/channel e.g. to learn, to get a job, to get funding, and picking which platform to use. One thing to note is that your identity in one profile may be directly linked to all your other online profiles, hence you need to be consistent in all your profiles because it may come off as being disingenuous when personality variances emerge, hampering your ability to build trust online.
WHAT? “What can you do to get noticed?” This addresses the creative approach: always try to build the connection and warm your target up before a big ask – although the number of likes on a post is welcome, active engagement such as reading what has already been posted and posting well thought out comments to show genuine interest can make a significant difference.

HOW? “How do you use your network?” Following thought leaders and engaging others on their feeds can help you stay abreast with your target audience.

Nuggets: How to Win in the Social World

(i) How can I help? Since most relationships today are transactional, find out how you can help. It could be recommending your network for a job or sending flowers on a birthday
(ii) Set the tone for the group, be positive and be fun to be around virtually
(iii) Use ‘perfect bite-size asks’ by targeting people’s areas of competency and give them something they can easily say yes to. For instance, you want to start a podcast, reach out to someone in your network who already has a podcast and ask for pointers
(iv) Always compliment, praise, like and wave to recognize, support and acknowledge others achievements
(v) Keep in touch: send out a newsletter once or twice a month, and keep a diary of your catch ups, schedule into your calendar periodic catch-ups and prepare for the catch-up by doing your homework
(vi) Celebrate: birthdays, work anniversaries etc. by sending messages, e-cards or even flowers
(vii) Use pictures and videos in your social media platforms to elicit reactions. Realize that people like to be entertained then give people content that they can interact with
(viii) Keep your eye on the prize: stay focused and be prepared to do the heavy lifting to make the relationship work
(ix) Expand your network: if you have a good network, create opportunities for people to connect by letting them ask you for connections and vice versa, ask to be connected
(x) Be kind, be the safe space for people: be inclusive and give others the gift of your network i.e. ‘gift your privilege’

Watch the full session on Building Social Capital in a Distanced World

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