Sunday, July 19, 2015

Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 3

Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 1: Learning More About An Emerging Topic.
Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 2: Google Searches & Google Docs.
Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 3: People In Emerging Communities.

Emerging topics emerge because people starting working on new or specialized subjects and find value in them. Those people are likely to have unique and valuable insights, perspectives or goals regarding the topic.

As I mentioned in the Part 1 post about connecting emerging communities, when you’re interested in something that's new to the world, it’s fun to connect with other people who are also involved with that emerging topic. It’s especially valuable to talk with, to help, and to work with those early leaders and pioneers in a field. -- civic hacking social network
If you’re going to reach out to and talk with leaders or knowledgeable people in an emerging field, you should first learn the basics and some of the intermediate aspects of the topic. There is little incentive for a knowledgeable person to talk with you about their specialty unless you can follow the conversation, know a few interesting questions to ask and have grokked enough about the field to understand their answers to your questions.

If you haven’t already done so, before you start contacting people who are active in the topic of interest to you, do your research (see Part 1 and Part 2 posts about connecting emerging communities). For the topic of civic hacking that means you’ve done lots of searching for “civic hacking,” “civic hacker,” “civic hackathon,” “National Day of Civic Hacking,” “Code for America,” “open data,” “civic tech,” govtech, and related keywords. You’ve searched in Google News, and on the Web. While you’re doing all this searching, you’ve made notes about what you’ve read and have made a list of organizations and people involved with civic hacking.

After you decided to reach out to people in an emerging area, you did as I suggested in Part 2 of this series and made a prioritized list of target contacts. Now it’s time to prepare for reaching out to the people who are high on your prioritized list.

If you’re serious about building relationships in a new field, you should consider reading “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. The book has many effective suggestions for building relationships, but I’ll emphasize two here.

The first relationship building tool is to thoroughly research your target contact’s background and interests so (1) you know what to talk about with them, and (2) you know what specific aspects of the emerging field you should understand before reaching out to the contact. and (3) you can figure out

You’ll learn about your target contacts the same way you learned the basics of the emerging topic -- by using Google. Read articles, posts, research papers, books or other things your contact has written. Read things that have been written about them. Take notes about their interests, especially ones that aren’t directly relevant to the emerging field.

The second relationship building tool is to always find some way of helping your target contact, whether this is giving them information they would be interested in but probably don’t have or connecting them with people or organizations in their areas of high interest. This gives your target contact a reason to talk with you. For example, if this person is a civic hacker but is also interested in nanotechnology and is a big hockey fan, you can research all the ways in which nanotechnology is being used in hockey. If you’re not directly involved with nanotech or hockey, or whatever their interest areas are, you can be or become a bridge contact between them and others who are directly involved with nanotech or hockey.

After you’ve become very knowledgeable about your contact and have figured out a couple ways in which you might be interesting or helpful to them, begin reaching out to them. I won’t write a lot here about how to reach out to new people; there are plenty of books and online resources to help you with that. For this post, I’ll just recommend three options for initial communications.

The best initial connection with your target contact is to have someone who knows both you and the target contact connect you via a personal introduction or email. This ensures the person knows you want to connect with them, and makes it likely they’ll listen to what you say when you tell them why you wanted to talk with them.

The next best way to connect with that person is to meet them at an event related to the emerging field. They might be a speaker or someone involved in the agenda of the event, or they might be another attendee at the event. By reaching out to them in person at the event, you know they’re aware of your desire to talk with about the emerging field. After initially meeting them, you may be able to schedule a one-on-one meeting at some point during the event, or you can request an in-person meetup after the event. Either way, you’re now more than an impersonal email address, Twitter name or phone number.

If you can’t get a personal introduction or meet them at an event, find their contact information and reach out to them via email, Twitter, phone number or some other communication tool. Because the Internet makes it so easy to reach out to strangers, your success with this cold-call method will have a low rate of success. But if you don’t let the low success rate stop you, continued reaching out will result in meeting some great new contacts.

Especially helpful in emerging fields is the fact that university researchers are often key people in those fields. University websites usually have a directory that will provide email and phone contact info. After you get to know a few university faculty or researchers in a field, they can often help you connect to others involved with the topic outside the walls of the university.

As you begin to connect with people in your emerging topic, be sure to keep track of details and personal information about your new contact. Everyone enjoys being of sufficient importance that new acquaintances actually remember what they’ve discussed during conversations, especially if it’s personal and not just facts about the emerging topic. If you don’t have a formal contact management or personal CRM (contact / customer relationship management) tool, at least make sure your Gmail or other contact list is frequently updated with new information about your new contacts.

As you start developing more relationships in the new field, be aware of opportunities to connect people in that field who may not know each other. If you don’t have advanced knowledge in a field or financial support to offer your new contacts, one of the best ways you can help them in their field is to connect them with others highly involved in the emerging topic. If you’re intentionally identifying and connecting with influential, knowledgeable, pioneering or uniquely interesting people, that’s probably something most others in the field are not doing. Use your relationship building skills to help others as well as to help yourself.

Next week, I’ll write Part 4 in this series, addressing another way to get more connected and involved in civic hacking and other emerging communities.


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