1) Don’t even try
The reason I say this is because I think that network building is natural, especially on the internet. You don’t have to pluck up the courage to make important phone calls, force yourself to join elitist clubs, or hobnob with the cream of society just to pass out some business cards. If you are true to your own passion and business interests, your network will come to you. This worked particularly well for me when I first came online.
I was in full research mode and soaking up any kind of information I could to set up my online business. I was after tech savvy knowledge, brain-friendly ideas, virtual classrooms, web tools, environments, content creation and writing opportunities.
Amongst my first contacts and closest members of my PLN today is one influential teacher on WiZiQ who shared my obsession about right-brain learning.
Stumbling across a thread where someone is debating a topic you’ve been studying for years, but which is too nerdy for your home network to swallow, is a lovely accident of serendipity.
Another important contact is a writer, social media expert, wordpress expert and online teacher who has influenced my writing/blogging and even career direction. Others in my PLN are some of the most brilliant and eccentric movers and shakers in ELT . In general my tribe consists of those who excel in what I want to learn, and those who want to learn what I excel in.
This network building happened naturally in very fun ways because if you love your work, you will easily meet other who love their work too.
2) Share, share, share….
This is the best way to get noticed on social networks, and again, it’s something I did subconsciously. I had no ‘plan’ other than to create an online presence on facebook as the experts recommended. As I was very busy learning about web 2.0 technology, virtual classrooms and content creation, I could not see the value in messing around on facebook. What I did was work fanatically doing research and creating content, but I shared everything I found and everything I did on facebook. I also held free public classes and shared the recordings of my classes. My PLN just blossomed and thrived with the fertilizer of an open spirit and willingness to apply the karma principle.
3) Sniff out substance
Find the experts who know what you are interested in and add them as friends/contacts etc. across networks.
If you are not focused on your goals your network can grow wild and confusing, so that must always be your top priority. If you get lost in the ELT wilderness online, your PLN will remain distant, elusive and of little benefit to yourself or anyone else.
4) NLP your PLN
I don’t mean to get too scientific or nerdy, but I just couldn’t resist inverting the acronym. This is also one of the most crucial points I will make here.
Many people may feel inferior to top names in the business, or ‘too ordinary’ to carve out their own niches. They also may feel that the experts have done it all and there are no niches left. Once you get over this limiting belief, you will be in big trouble because you won’t be able to turn off your creativity tap. The last thing I ever worry about is ideas, but that’s because I have trained my brain to be inquisitive and think outside the box.
Back to NLPing PLNS.
NLP stands for neuro-linguistc programming and it’s a relatively new branch of practical psychology making its way into education. It’s also closely related to neuro-science and brain-based learning, which is how I got into it.
Anyway, one of the corner stones of NLP is the modelling concept. If you want to learn something, you must follow someone who is already doing it. Instead of being overwhelmed by the success of others, be inspired by it. Those people we admire are probably facing their own struggles, but we can’t see it from where we are. You will be very surprised about how you can reciprocate the learning at a later date and to discover that you too have much that those experts may want to learn from you.
Modelling someone is as natural as growing up. You observe what they do and how they do it – read their blogs, examine their websites, follow what they say on Facebook or Twitter. Take parts of what they do and practice it in your own way, tweak their techniques, personalize them and transform them into your own vision.
This does not mean we are copy cats or indulge in plagiary, but it does mean that we can learn the substance of what they do, and be positively influenced by it.
5) Attend to your attitude
Attitude is everything in business. If you are not genuine about the higher purpose of your work or if your integrity is too often compromised, your PLN presence will begin to stink. We live in a suspicious world and it takes time to build up trust. I do it quickly and painlessly by being myself, having no hidden agendas or ulterior motives, and ,mostly, by knowing 100% that whatever I share with my PLN is going to make my business and network stronger in the long run. The feel good factor is also very motivating, so you are less likely to get jaded or exhausted in this precarious business of Edupreneuring. If you want something from a member of your PLN just say so. If you need help, ask. If you are following the right people, your common interests will speak for themselves
I think that a common misconception is that we must hoard our ideas in case someone steals them. The truth is that once you become generous with your ideas they will flow more freely and you will never be stuck again. This also leads to collaborative brain-storming and many exciting rabbit holes to discover. For me, it led to many collaborative projects that have enriched my work and my preutation.
Another problem is feeling jealous of other people who are on a roll if you feel stuck in the doldrums. We all have peaks and valleys, so if you are happy for the success of your colleagues and express genuine support, your day will come too, and you will be very grateful for a supportive network that wants to share your success.
6) Don’t hog the blog
I can’t recommend blogging highly enough. Your blog will reflect who you are in ELT, what you are interested, and how you can help people. Blogs can also be PLN killers if you write in an egocentric manner and only write about yourself, what you do and what you want. If you fail to write with the reader in mind, don’t share deep content, hoard your true knowledge or treat writing like a visit to the dentist, you will repel your readership and network. It’s a gentle balancing act. Writing only what you think is popular, on the other hand, will be false and unconvincing.
What I do is write about my passionate interests but frame the concepts in a way that makes it meaningful for the whole ELT community or learning community.
Let me add that if you are not comfortable blogging, use video or other multi-media. You tube is probably more effective than blogging, but writing suits me as a medium, especially as I have small kids ,so I can interrupt my writing any time, but have an irrational fear of being caught with an unexpected tantrum on ‘the set’ of you tube.
7) No one is too high up for you or too low down
The miracle of modern technology is that you can network with anyone no matter how famous they are. Obviously, it’s a question of distance. For example, I follow Sir Ken Robinson, but it doesn’t mean that we are going to chat for hours on skype or that he knows I exist. It does mean, however that I read his books, follow him on Networks and read his linkedin ‘Thought Leader’ posts.
On the other extreme, as a busy Edupreneur you cannot allow your wider circles on facebook to flood your inbox or keep you chatting on threads all day long. You can share with everybody – no one is lower down than you on any kind of hierarchy, but your time is important as everyone has to earn a living. Therefore you must also develop the art of sharing, responding and engaging without becoming bogged down or getting your energy sapped. This is an art I’m still working on.
My final advice is to focus on the capital P in PERSONAL learning network. Be yourself if you wish to be truly connected.
You’ve been reading a guest post by Sylvia Guinan.
img credit: onlinecollege.org