How to build a network of contacts online

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show, we look at the subject of online networking. Do all digital professionals need to improve their skills in this area or is it something we can leave to marketers?

This week’s show is sponsored by ResourceGuru and TeamGantt.


Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we look at the subject of online networking. Do all digital professionals need to improve their skills in this area, or is this something we can leave to marketers? This week's show is sponsored by TeamGantt and ResourceGuru. Hello and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of user experience, design, digital strategy, and working in digital. My name is Paul Boag, and joining me as always is Marcus Lillington. Hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Hello, Paul. Yeah, I'm not sure how much use I'm going to be to you today.

Paul Boag: Why?

Marcus Lillington: Well, probably about an hour ago, I was thinking, "I don't know if I can … I might have to drop out and make you do it on your own." But I'll explain why in my thought for the day.

Paul Boag: Ooh. Now I just want to get straight through. No. No, no, no. You can't do that.

Marcus Lillington: I can.

Paul Boag: Do your thought for the day now.

Marcus Lillington: I can, I can, I can. La la la la. All right.

Paul Boag: That's really annoying.

Marcus Lillington: Okay, I'll do it now, if you like.

Paul Boag: Yeah, do it now.

Marcus Lillington: Why not?

Paul Boag: Do it now, and then we'll come back to other waffly stuff in a minute, because I want to know.

Marcus Lillington: Well, a couple of years back, I did a thought for the day entitled, "We need to lighten up." And today-

Paul Boag: Yes I remember that.

Marcus Lillington: … it seems appropriate to revisit it. I had a list of things, basically saying it's always been a bit tough lately.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: It's things that not a lot's changed. The list included things like, "Business has been slow," which it kind of has been. "We've lost a few pitches that I thought we'd win," which applies to one or two. "Trump's in office. He still is. Brexit is looming. It still is. Everything is expensive. I'm getting grayer. I'm getting older and weaker." I've listed here that I've got a cold, but I haven't got a cold at the moment, so that one's not right. And yes, and finished it off with, "Everything is shit," right?

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, I know. That's fair enough.

Marcus Lillington: Back then, it was basically the health problems of three of my friends that made me see what's really important. And fortunately for those three, they're all great now, so hooray on that. But today, it's been the birth of my latest two grandchildren, so my dear-

Paul Boag: Oh wow, two?

Marcus Lillington: Two, yes. She's pregnant with twins, or was. Basically, my daughter's and the babies health is all that really matters though, comparing it to the previous thought for the day. Baby son, grandchild number three, arrived a couple of hours ago.

Paul Boag: Right.

Marcus Lillington: Which was cool, but obviously, still in … Because, obviously, with twins, more things can go wrong, so it's a bigger worry, and you're stressed. I haven't been able to do any work at all today. I've been sort of twiddling my thumbs and staring out the window.

Paul Boag: No, I can understand. Of course.

Marcus Lillington: But little girl arrived half an hour ago, which is why I was like, "I don't know if I can do this podcast, knowing there's still one there. I'm just going to be complete …" I'm probably pretty useless anyway, but "completely useless." But it's fabulous news. Everyone is well. Everyone is well, and the babies, so that's the great news. I'm very-

Paul Boag: Oh wow, that's so cool. Oh, I'm really pleased, really pleased. I didn't know. I think you'd mentioned before that she was due another … but I didn't know it was twins. That's a … Blooming A, good luck for them, then.

Marcus Lillington: Yes, they now have four children, bless them. But anyway, I'm massively relieved, and I need to lie down.

Paul Boag: Yeah, you must be exhausted.

Marcus Lillington: Well, you're not … Yeah.

Paul Boag: So how-

Marcus Lillington: Sorry.

Paul Boag: Yeah, you must be exhausted.

Marcus Lillington: Yes, all I've done is just sit around and worry.

Paul Boag: But don't you think that … I think that's an interesting thing, mind, with your kids, right? That, actually, I'd prefer to go through something myself than see my child go through it, don't you think?

Marcus Lillington: I mean-

Paul Boag: Pregnancy's a weird thing.

Marcus Lillington: You're never going to have any babies, Paul.

Paul Boag: No, I know that, but it's that principle.

Marcus Lillington: I know what you mean, yeah.

Paul Boag: You know what I'm getting at.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: It's horrible, seeing your children suffer and have problems and all of that kind of stuff.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: So everybody's okay then, I take it?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, yeah. And she's been fine the way through the pregnancy, but you just … The amount, because she was very keen to have a water birth for the first one, and hospitals don't want to do that. Maybe have it at home, hospitals don't want to do that. She's had to fight to get what she wanted in the end, but she's been fine all the way through. It's just, you just worry that there are chances of more complications. And this whole thought for the day is just about what's important in life. All those things I listed previously, I'm okay. Work's all right. inaudible 00:05:09. The political situation isn't great, but it is what it is, so I guess it's good to be reminded sometimes of what's important, and to put some perspective on the everyday stuff that might be getting you down a bit.

Paul Boag: Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington: Of course, work's important. We've got to have enough money to be able to support ourselves and our families, and all that kind of thing, but I suppose the thought for the day is just find the right balance. Make sure that you're not just worrying about work-related things, and that you're also doing the play stuff, and in air quotes, "Play equals whatever the thing is that lowers your stress." Because otherwise, you get the balance wrong, and life can be pretty fragile at times. That's my thought.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I couldn't agree more, and it takes, sometimes, those outside things to just jolt you out and make you think, "Flippin' A, what am I worried about?"

Marcus Lillington: Exactly.

Paul Boag: I keep on my desk, on my desk, I have a photograph of a little lad. He's a gorgeous little lad who is one of the children in India, the charity that I support, and I always keep that on my desk, not just to remind me partly of why I earn money and why I do what I do, but also because he has had the shittest, awfulest life in the world. He's covered in burns, because his father tried to commit suicide by setting himself on fire, or did commit suicide by setting himself on fire. And the little lad, as a toddler, tried to help his dad, and ended up with third degree burns. Really horrendous story. But he is the happiest little lad you'd ever want to meet. He's so upbeat, and he's so wonderful, and you think, "What the hell do we have to moan about? Brexit?" Flippin' A, we still live in one of the most privileged countries in the world, so yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Absolutely. But-

Paul Boag: He's totally ruined my introduction, my Marcus. Because I was going to go for a big moan in my introduction, and I can't do that now, can I?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, you can, but I'll point fingers.

Paul Boag: See, I've literally written-

Marcus Lillington: I'm useless now. You're not going to get anything else out of me for the entire show.

Paul Boag: That's it. You're done. You're done for the show. Well, that's fair enough. We'll keep it as a quite short one, because no doubt, you want to go and see your new grandchildren.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. I mean, I don't know when … Yes, but I-

Paul Boag: When that'll happen, who knows?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, yeah. Hopefully soon.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I'm sure it will. Right, okay. What we'll do, we will make it a shorter show, and we'll just push on, because there's no reason why it has to be the normal 50 minutes. Although, actually, you know that John Oxton and Jon Hicks have started doing Rissington again. Did you see their tweets about the first one they recorded? We need to put a link in the show notes to their podcast, because it's definitely one worth checking out. Gardener's Question Time for designers is the way that they describe it. And the first show, they were aiming to make the show 20 minutes. It was two hours long, so short shows are great, if you can actually pull them off.

Right. What we're going to talk about today, we're talking about … Well, I called it online engagement when I wrote it originally, and when I was sat down to actually prepare, it was a little bit more specific, what I want to look at today, than just online engagement. It's really about networking, and building up a network of contacts, specifically online, although a lot of what I'm going to say will apply offline as well. And I wanted to look at it specifically from that angle, because we've already talked about sales and marketing, and that those are the kind of things that are important, and we all need to be aware of that, et cetera and et cetera.

But this idea of networking and building up relationships and contacts with people online isn't directly marketing, and I don't think you should think of it in those kinds of terms, because it … We'll get into why that's an issue later. We want to talk about networking. We want to talk about self promotion, and this is … Sorry. I want to talk about networking, not self promotion. The complete opposite of what I said. Marcus has got an excuse for being a bit dizzy. I don't.

Yeah, it is something that we should all be paying attention to. It is incredibly important, and the reason being is that's probably how you're going to progress your career. That's how you're going to win your next job. That's how you're going to get the next piece of work. That's how you're going to progress in this wonderful world of digital. To be honest, it's how you're going to find people that are able to help you solve problems.

One of the things in my situation as a generalist is that I know a little bit about a lot, but not a lot about anything in particular. But fortunately, I know a lot of people that do know a lot about things in particular, so regularly, I'm saying, "Okay, yeah. Am I doing that the right way? Is that the right way of approaching things?" And I have this group of people that I can call upon, and ask for advice and ask for help, and get answers to specific challenges that I might be facing.

Which, by the way, is what we're going to talk about next season of the podcast. We're going to talk about pain points and problems that people face. But anyway, that's not what we're talking about now. Also, networking is a great way of finding someone, a mentor or even not … I don't know whether a mentor is the right word. Yeah, you can find that, but also just having somebody to share stuff with that is outside of your situation.

Because a lot of us work by ourselves, so it's really good to have other people that we can turn to and chat with. But even if you work as part of a team, sometimes it's good to have someone outside of that team, outside of that environment, that you can talk to and you can bounce ideas around with. And then, finally, networking is really good as a way of … Yeah, go … Sorry, Marcus. I was presuming you weren't going to say anything for the rest of the show, so feel free to jump in.

Marcus Lillington: I was just thinking, as a kind of sounding board. I guess that's what you meant.

Paul Boag: That's the word. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: More than a mentor, just someone to check with, and then that person will no doubt become a kind of peer, I suppose, in the end.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And then, the final thing is giving back as well. I think networking is good as an opportunity to give back to others. All of those other things I listed was what you get out of it, but I do think one of the great things about … There's a lot about the modern web I really, really don't like. There are directions that it's gone that, for someone that had such idealistic views of it back in the day, it is not what I hoped it would be.

But the one thing that I do think is absolutely brilliant about the web is there are so many people giving, putting stuff out into the world. I mean, just take this morning. I was doing some prototyping this morning. And it's just a grayscale prototype I that I was creating, but I was sitting there, and I was whacking this prototype together really quickly. And I realized … I was using a template that somebody had taken the time to create all of the components you might ever need to do a wireframe, a grayscale wireframe in Sketch, and I was able to do that work in probably a third of the time it would've taken me if I was doing things from scratch. And that, that's wonderful. I think the more we can give back as we're using what other people have got, that's a really great thing as well.

Networking, it's good for those general reasons, but it's also good for specific groups of people. One is it's great if you're introverted. Online networking is really good for you in those kinds of situations. Actually, believe it or not, I probably fall in to this category. Even though I come across as a very extrovert person, I find one-to-one, face-to-face things quite tiring, and you have to do small talk and shit like that. I'm not very good at that, but I am very good … Online, it's a lot easier, so it's great if you're introverted.

It's great if you're unable to or sick of traveling. There's a lot of people that don't want to be traipsing to every conference and every networking event. Or they can't, because they look after a disabled parent or they've got kids or whatever else. Online networking's a really great tool in those kinds of situations. And if you just don't have enough time to go to all of these events, because they take a lot of time. Going to a conference, not only is there the day of the conference, if there is only one day. You have to travel up the night before, and then travel back. It's not always very practical.

Marcus Lillington: And it costs.

Paul Boag: And it costs, yeah. Absolutely. It's also really good if you're looking to maintain a bigger network of contacts. Obviously, one-to-one relationships, it's easier, it is more intense, it's better in some ways … I hate to say that in terms of quality, but you can't do it with as many people. Online networking is really good from that, and it's really good if you're looking to find people with a specific interest or with a specific background. If you happen to be a WordPress developer who specializes in charity websites, you can find other WordPress developers that specialize in charity websites out there. But doing that in person would be extremely difficult, so you know-

Marcus Lillington: Especially if you live in the middle of nowhere.

Paul Boag: Yes, like what I do. Although, was it you, Louis? I'm trying to remember. Louis is in the chat room. Was posting photographs of his house recently.

Marcus Lillington: Lyle.

Paul Boag: And he lives-

Marcus Lillington: It was Lyle.

Paul Boag: It was, it was Lyle, not Louis. Right, and Lyle lives in the middle of nowhere in a beautiful part of the world. I was most envious of him, talking about networks of people. The Slack channel is really good for that. Immediately, Marcus, you knew who it was, because you're a people person while I'm not. There you go. And-

The other thing. Yeah, sorry. I totally lost my train of thought for a bit. The final reason why online networking is good is because you're more in control than you are face-to-face. What I mean by that is, online networking is generally asynchronous. Someone posts something, and then you've got time to think about it and work out how you want to reply, rather than a conversation, where you can't stand there for five minutes working out how you want to phrase something or what you want to say. It gives you a better sense of control, which is really good.

Marcus Lillington: Because everyone online, they always think long and hard before they make a comment.

Paul Boag: No, no. Of course they don't, but they should.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: And I include myself in that comment very much. But yeah, it gives you that opportunity if you want it.

Marcus Lillington: What is it? Dave Gorman calls it "the bottom half of the internet," where the comments are.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington: And it's the place where he finds all the interesting stuff.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that's really both … It works on two levels, doesn't it?

Marcus Lillington: It does, yes. Totally.

Paul Boag: There we go. Online networking is certain something you should be considering, really for building your long term career and for getting the help that you need and the support you need. It is absolutely invaluable. And it's always been very much at the center of my approach to the web, even from back in the days, I was part of one of the first ever virtual communities, called The Well. I don't know whether anybody's even heard of that anymore.

Which was on the same server as … What was there? What was there? There was a band. Anyway, I can't remember. In the very, very early days of the web, we would hang out in a chat room and just talk about anything. We don't do that quite so much anymore, but I made some really good friends in those early days, people who I would've ever normally interacted with, and I could learn from.

I made friends with a lady called Crystal, who is suffering from terminal cancer, so she couldn't leave the house. And that was her outlet on the world. Another guy called Matthew, who was deaf. Again, he found the internet a really great way of communicating. Right the way through to these days, where I'm taking part in the Boagworld Slack channel, and I get abuse and rudeness every day from the moment I get up, but you've built up a really good group of people in that room, where we share things and we share experiences, and what we struggle with and what's good about our job, and that kind of stuff. It's very rewarding. Anyway, what I wanted to get into then is what we need to know about doing that kind of thing online in order to do it well and to get the most out of it.

But before we do that, I just want to talk quickly about our sponsor. Our sponsor today is ResourceGuru, who we've had a number of times on the show, and a huge thank you to them for their ongoing support. ResourceGuru is a team scheduling tool used by all kinds of organizations, like Apple and NASA, and as I always joke, Headscape as well, which sits nicely in that list.

Marcus Lillington: It does.

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You can just have a play. Try it out, see if you like it. And then, if you do want to sign up, you can use the promo code BOAGWORLD2019, and get 20% off the lifetime subscription to that product, so you don't … Yeah, it's very reasonably priced anyway, but that certainly makes things a lot better. Cool, right. I've just saw you leaning over there, Marcus, and I was going, "Is it a text from the family? Is something exciting happening there?"

Marcus Lillington: Joke list.

Paul Boag: Oh, joke list. Well, that's boring. They almost look like an organized joke list, Marcus. Looks like you actually planned some of that out. I'm impressed.

Marcus Lillington: No, it's just because we had six months off, so I've managed to find so many, I just have pulled them all into one big Word document.

Paul Boag: Okay, no organized tool then. I should've known better.

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: Okay. Let's talk about what you need to know about being active online and networking online. I think the very first thing to say is, look, online networking doesn't replace face-to-face networking. Unfortunately, that's true, and it's very easy. I've seen a number of people that have used online networking as an excuse to avoid doing some of the face-to-face stuff, because they don't really like it that much. And, to be honest, I'm somebody a bit like that, that I'm terrible at going to conferences.

And when you have the break times, I have this vague sense of dread, especially when there's no one else I know that I can cling on to. And so, I end up walking around in circles, pretending like I'm going from one place to another. I'm terrible. I bet you don't have that at all, Marcus, don't you? You're probably really relaxed and chill.

Marcus Lillington: I am, but I've always made a point of not fretting about meeting new people or making an effort to talk to people. I just think it happens. Or if you take that attitude, then it's more likely to just happen. Or it's more likely to happen with somebody who you're going to want to talk to, do you see what I mean? If you just go up and talk to people and go, "Hello," because a lot of conferences, they encourage you to do that. "Just be brave enough."

But actually, that person probably doesn't necessarily want to talk to you if they're just, I don't know, looking at their phone or whatever. I might be wrong on that one, but I've just found, just hang around, have something to eat, have a coffee, whatever. And if there's someone there, you might want to talk to them, but don't fret if you don't. And I think that's a good way to be.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Takes the pressure off, if nothing else really.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, exactly.

Paul Boag: It's like one of the people that I mentor at the moment. She basically absolutely hates that kind of stuff, and I'd love to be able to say to her, "Look, you don't need to do it. You can just do it all online." But I do think there is a degree where, it makes an enormous difference to meet and spend time with people face-to-face at meetups and at events and that kind of stuff. But I think online networking can help with that, so one of the things that I've found is, because I've invested a lot of time in building up a network of people and getting chatting with people online, often, when I go to a conference, there will be somebody that I'm at least aware of from online conversations.

It makes it easier to talk to people, and it's also a great way of keeping the relationship going. When you meet someone at a conference or at a meetup, you can then follow up with them afterwards on social media. And just by following people as well … Let's take someone random. Let's take Jon Hicks, for example, because we were talking about the Rissington Podcast earlier. Jon, I only ever see … Well, no. That's not entirely true, but I mainly would see at conferences and meetups and events. And if I saw him, if that was the only interactions I was ever having with him, it'd be a little bit awkward, because I wouldn't know what to talk to him about.

But because I see him and follow him online, and we talk online, I know what his kids are doing. I know that his wife was walking the dog and it was cold and miserable. And she was having a good moan. I know that they're restarting the Rissington Podcast, and I know all of this stuff, which makes those face-to-face conversations a lot easier. That's why I always see networking as a supplement to in person stuff rather than a replacement to it. I don't think you can just do one.

Marcus Lillington: You know, Paul, what the best, absolute best way to talk to people … or the most effective thing that can help you in talking to people at conferences is?

Paul Boag: Alcohol.

Marcus Lillington: Alcohol.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington: Always.

Paul Boag: Now, that is … I have to say, that is very true, because I never have that feeling of an awkward moment at IWMW, which is the most alcoholic conference I've ever been to in my life.

Marcus Lillington: So true. It's the universal icebreaker, and it works at conferences as well, so there you go.

Paul Boag: Yes, absolutely. The other thing, a lot of the time … I thought you were going to be sensible-

Marcus Lillington: No.

Paul Boag: … which is stupid of me. But my kind of normal answer to that one is very much, I just ask people about themselves. I ask a lot of questions, which, whether that comes from doing years of podcast interviews, I don't know. Probably people feel like they're being interviewed for a job or something, and I make them massively uncomfortable, but generally, people find it relatively easy to talk about themselves.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, that's true.

Paul Boag: So there we go. Right. We've made the caveat: It doesn't replace face-to-face networking. But networking online can be very useful. It's a great way of meeting people, and I think you've got to have that mentality with it. It's about meeting people, rather than it being about what you can get from people. I get dozens of tweets and emails and LinkedIn requests and that kind of stuff every day. Not every day, every week. I'm not that popular.

Marcus Lillington: "I'm so popular."

Paul Boag: I'm so popular. But every week, I'll get over a dozen, I would've thought.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: And you can smell the ones that it's just going to be, "Okay, right. What do you want from me?" And people smell that a mile off. It can't be about that. It's got to be about a genuine interest to connect with people. And the other kind of danger is, A, you can't go in with the attitude, "Oh, I want to talk to this person, because I want an answer to this," or "I want them to promote that," or "I want this from them." You can't do that, and the other thing you can't do, which I see people do all the time that really gets up my nose, is they assess you and whether you're worth the time.

And I've had this … I swear to you, I have had this in networking events as well, all right? I once met a … I'll slag him off. Who cares? I once met Mike Arrington, who was the founder of TechCrunch. And somebody introduced me to him. I said, "Oh, hi." He asked two or three questions back-to-back about me, going back to that feeling like you were being interviewed, and then, you could see him mentally assessing whether I was worth his time, concluding that I wasn't, and then just trying to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible.

It's like … that is just not. I'll give you an example of how it can work in your favor, actually putting the effort in. One of the biggest, the most common things I get today, is people go … This is massively depressing, but on the other hand, it's really good. People will contact me or email me and say, "When I was a student, I used to listen to the podcast, and I wrote you an email and asked you about this. You took the time to answer it. Can I hire you now?"

Marcus Lillington: Okay.

Paul Boag: I'm exaggerating for comic effect, but all those years ago, they were worthless people. They were just students.

Marcus Lillington: Lowly students.

Paul Boag: But now those people are actually in a position where they can hire me, and that's great. It's come back around eventually, and I think it does with networking in various ways. Not always in that kind of way, but sometimes, I've spent a lot of time helping someone who I know can't hire me. My rates are way out of their league, but then, they've recommended me to somebody else. You just never know. You never know how these things are going to work, so you just can't have that attitude of, "Are you worth talking to?" Look at the people that are in our Skype channel … Not Skype channel, our Slack channel. What a bunch of losers. None of them are going to be worth my time in a million years, but I'm nice and I'm caring.

Marcus Lillington: You are.

Paul Boag: And I like to give to people.

Marcus Lillington: So warm hearted, Paul. Caring-

Paul Boag: I know, right?

Marcus Lillington: That's what you are.

Paul Boag: Caring, yeah. I've got a big heart. Anyway, right. I've forgotten what I was talking about again. Right, so never ignore people. That's it. Here's some quickfire, non-irritating ways-

Marcus Lillington: Let me just … Let me just jump in crosstalk 00:32:27.

Paul Boag: You're not going to let me get away with that, are you?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: No, no, no, no. No, I'm just saying about that, I think that when you meet somebody new, we are assessing, not the value of them. That's the wrong way of looking at it, but whether they're somebody that we want to know, what to spend some time with. I think that that example of the guy that was visibly weighing you up was probably doing that for arrogant effect. "I'm so bloody important."

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: But I think all of us, when we meet each other, are assessing each other to a degree. Just be nice about it and don't make it obvious, I suppose.

Paul Boag: And also, it's what you assess people on, isn't it? It's that assumption … Of course, I assess people all the time. Everybody does, but it's not assessing them based on, "Oh, am I going to get some work out of them? Is it going to lead to something of value like that?" That's just a very short term view, I think, is the point that I was driving home.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, short sighted.

Paul Boag: But yeah, of course we assess people. Okay, let's do some quickfire, non-irritating ways to network with people online. First thing, join some communities, but don't join loads of different communities. Pick one. Whether you become a smashing member and join their community, whether you … There's some great Slack channels around UX. You could join the Boagworld Slack channel if you want by going to

Just find somewhere and invest in it, such a worthwhile thing to do. Get to know people, and you'll be amazed at how generous and giving people are, when you become an established part of a community. You can't just pop in and pop out. You can't pop in, throw a request out there, and then never be seen again. That isn't networking. That's not building relationships. But get in a community, get established in it, and you'll be amazed.

Second thing is consider taking part in some open source projects. There's some really great open source projects out there. They're always looking for help and always looking for support. And if you can't do that, then answer people's questions online. There are a lot of sites where there are people with questions and stuff that they're finding challenging, and it's always really good to spend a bit of time contributing to those kinds of things.

Write comments as well. Say, if you wanted … I don't know. You wanted to connect with someone that you think is particularly interesting on social media or whatever. Don't go in and just say, "Hello, my name's …" Whatever. Or don't even go in with, "Can you do this?" But instead, start commenting on their stuff. Start giving your opinions and your feedback on it. And the other thing is, encourage people. Make them feel of value. Show that you appreciate them and what they do.

And also, the other thing that I see so many people doing is they don't come across as themselves. It's like they're putting on this façade, for some reason. And I can understand that online, because sometimes, it can be quite a vicious place at times. And so you're quite guarded going in. You decide that you … "Gary Vaynerchuk seems to be very successful on networking, so I'll be like him." And it just doesn't work. You can't be anybody other than yourself, and not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone's going to appreciate what you do, but that's okay. There's a lot of people out there. It's a big old world.

The other thing that I find really good, as well as giving your opinions and writing comments and participating, another thing that people really like online is when you recommend products and services. Not yours, but other peoples. People are always on the lookout for cool new things, tips, techniques, tools, anything like that. The more that you share that kind of stuff, the better.

It's quite important, I think, to use different channels appropriately, so not all channels work in the same way, and you've got to feel them out. That applies not just to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and that kind of stuff, but also to individual communities. Like the kind of stuff that's okay to post in the Boagworld Slack channel might not be okay to post in another channel, so you've got to learn the channels.

For example, on LinkedIn, you see people going off and starting to talk about politics or whatever, or that kind of thing, on LinkedIn. Well, LinkedIn is a professional environment designed for talking about professional stuff. Those kinds of posts don't fit as comfortably there. And equally, when you look at things like Instagram or Facebook, and people are … Facebook profiles, I should say. People try and post corporate stuff to their personal Facebook accounts, and use Instagram in a corporatey way, and it just doesn't fit.

Your posts appearing in the middle of people's family holiday photographs. It's just not appropriate. And Twitter, Twitter you've got to be careful of, because it's very easy for things to be misunderstood, and so they blow up, as I've experienced on a few occasions in the past. You've got to be a bit more sensitive about the topics you talk about on Twitter than you would elsewhere. Think about the channel.

Yeah, and if I could give one piece of advice for networking online is really make it about other people and not about you. Sure, you can put out your promotional stuff. On Twitter all the time, I'm putting out, "Here's a post I've written," and all of that kind of stuff. But that's not networking. That's something else. That's marketing.

Marcus Lillington: Marketing, yeah. Totally.

Paul Boag: Yeah, so I think, be very clear about what you're doing. Whether you're building relationships and you're networking with people, or whether you're marketing. And make sure that there's a clear distinction in the approach that we use. When it comes to networking, it's all about other people, their lives, what they're going through and supporting that.

That said, going back to Twitter and the sensitive issues, you're going to piss people off. Sooner or later, you will say something. If you're doing it right, to be honest, if you're doing it right, sooner or later, you're going to upset someone. And I don't say that because you're going to go out of your way to be antagonistic, but if you are being relaxed, and if you're being natural, and if you're being you, which you need to be if it's networking, then occasionally, you're going to put your foot in it.

Also, if you're expressing opinions and you're sharing comments, you're going to put your foot in it. I want to look briefly at, A, how to avoid that in the first place, and B, how to deal with it when it happens. In terms of avoiding it, pick your channels carefully. And where I've got in trouble with Twitter has been when I haven't remembered that Twitter has changed. I was on Twitter when it was in beta, back in beta. I was the two thousand, three hundred and something person on Twitter, so it was a very different place then. You've got to adapt to these channels and what they are now.

If you're worried about conflict, focus on your own experiences. Talk about your own experiences and what has happened in your world, rather than necessarily talking about what other people should do or how other people should behave or things like that. You're going to be on safer ground there. Make it clear, if you do express an opinion, tone it down slightly by saying things like, "Of course, not everyone would agree with me." Or, "I might be wrong." Recognize that other people have different opinions about it.

Also, when you read something that puts your back up, read it again to make sure that you're not misjudging the emotional content of it. Because oftentimes, when you're reading text stuff, it's really easy to misjudge what is being said there, so be careful about that. Also, focus as much as you can on how you're feeling rather than … Basically, just never criticize anybody else. Never criticize other people's opinions. They believe what they believe, and that's fair enough. But even if you do all of that, you're still going to get yourself into hot water every now and again, right? Right. First thing to say on that. What … You're laughing your ass off, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: I wish I was-

Paul Boag: Do you take-

Marcus Lillington: … in a slightly more … My brain's shot, as we know why from what I said earlier on, but this is great, because you've put yourself in trouble so many times.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I have.

Marcus Lillington: All I would say on that is, and that goes back to what you were just saying earlier, it's great, because you're being honest. I'm a lot more … I don't really go on Twitter anymore, very occasionally, because I've always got my wall up. It's just like … And I'm very, very careful about what I say. It's like, "Well, therefore, why bother?" And I can't help myself. That's just how I am, but if you're going to bring value, which going back to what you were saying earlier, sharing stuff and that kind of thing, and being part of a community, then you need to be yourself.

And if you are being yourself, then as you've already said, sometimes you're going to say something which probably … It might not even be the minority disagrees with you. You might be wrong, but it's like … It'll take a conversation on social media for you to grow out of that. But, problem is, particularly on things like Twitter, it turns into a flame war and is very unpleasant sometimes.

Paul Boag: Yeah, it can do. I think, because this has happened to me a number of times, as you say, because I am very open. And also, if you're going to express an opinion, which is the only way you're going to bring value to anything, to a discussion, if you're trying to please everybody, you're not going to say anything. You are going to say things, and people are going to sometimes disagree with you. And yes, you're right, some of those things are wrong.

In fact, the majority of times where I've got flamed, I've been in the wrong. Or I've not expressed it properly or something like that. I think, this is hard to do. It's important to realize that that is okay, that not everybody in the world needs to like you. And that actually, if you're polarizing people to some extent, that's okay too. Because it's a big world, and there's a lot of people. There will be people who agree with you and see the world like you. That's not an excuse to go and be antagonistic, and particularly go out of your way to be controversial, which I think some people do. But that doesn't mean that you can't express an opinion for fear of the backlash.

I think another thing that makes backlashes worse online … I think of the two biggest ones that I've had. One was over search engine optimization, and another one was over basically conference speaker choices and diversity and that kind of thing. In both of those big situations, the hardest thing is the fact that you get so many of the comments. But mentally, say if you and me disagreed over something, you'll say your opinion, and you've said it.

But when you're doing this online, you say your opinion, and then it's said again, then it's said again, then it's said again, and you feel bullied. You feel harassed, because it's being said so many times, repeatedly, by lots of different people. And that's when you feel ganged up upon, but you're not really. It's just one individual expressing an opinion to another individual. It's just the scale of it that can feel intimidating.

Marcus Lillington: Yes and no, because I think that one of the really bad things about social media is the, "If your opinion is maybe … For example, leaning towards the right, which mine isn't, but if it is, you're perfectly entitled to that really." But what often happens, you might make some right wing type of comment, and then it's almost like there's this indignant offense being taken, and everyone has to share this, so that everyone can swarm onto this comment. Which, I'm not saying that I would agree with that, but what happens is, it's almost like it doesn't really matter what was said.

There's not a discussion about whether it's right or wrong or anything like that. It's just point the finger, this person said a bad thing, so therefore, they need to be hung out to dry. That can happen.

Paul Boag: Yeah, and that is absolutely true. That does happen, and I think what you've got to be … The rule of thumb that I use there is if I'm having … There are certain people who attention I will give online and those that I won't. There are three grades of people who's opinion I take seriously at various grades.

Marcus Lillington: I've just got to jump … Hold that thought, Paul. What Paul Edwards said in the chat room, "Twitter is hard work these days. It's so much a virtue competition."

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: That's brilliant. In one sentence of what I was trying to say in 40 sentences.

Paul Boag: Yeah, and he's right. There is definitely a degree of that. I have a three step level. One, I take the opinion of people that I follow and that I know incredibly seriously. Over that diversity question, Rachel Andrew was somebody who came back quite strongly at me, and I can take it from Rachel. Absolutely fine, because she's somebody I know, somebody I respect, and so yeah, great. Then there's the second type of people, which are people that have commented and interacted with me in the past over other stuff, and that's fine.

They I fall into the category of, "Okay, they're not ganging up on me. These are just people that are responding individually to what's happened." Then the third group of people are the people I've never heard of before, that just suddenly come out of the woodwork. And those are the people that, in my opinion, are utterly irrelevant. I've never heard of them before. I never hear of them again. They'll make their one virtuous comment about how evil I am. Then they'll piss off and disappear into the distance, and I would've never got anything from them anyway. They provide no value to me. I provide no value to them. They're an irrelevance for me. Obviously, they're not irrelevant people.

Marcus Lillington: They're just irrelevant people.

Paul Boag: Yeah, but in my way of judging things. I think, if you've got some kind of framework in your head as to whose opinion matters and who doesn't before these things come up, it makes it easier. Oftentimes, as well, when things blow up, it's important to ask why someone's posting what they're posting. Not everyone … There seems to be this default reaction at the moment: "Oh, I'm being trolled. They're just trying to wind me up." And oftentimes, they're not.

I had a guy call me the C word once. Just out of the blue, not in response to anything I'd posted. Just literally, there was suddenly a tweet saying, "Paul Boag's an absolute C word." How do you … Do you respond to that? How do you respond to that? What I actually decided to do is I dropped him a DM, and I said, "Oh no, what have I done to upset you so much?"

Marcus Lillington: Disarming him.

Paul Boag: And he responded about an hour later and said, "I am so sorry about that. I had a really shit morning. I happened to listen to your podcast, and something you said just wound me up in that moment. And it came out online. I shouldn't have posted it."

Marcus Lillington: Wow.

Paul Boag: And it went away, but you could've easily presumed instantly that he was a troll and got into this big argument with him. Ask yourself … "Yeah, of course. Understandably so." I think that the lesson to take away from there is ask for clarity. Ask what specifically is upsetting them, is a good thing. Sometimes it's a good idea to switch medium. Take, for example, Twitter, which is particularly bad for this.

This was going to be a shorter show, and we're coming up on an hour already. With that diversity conversation, I badly expressed myself in that situation. Don't get me wrong. My viewpoint was out of whack with the majority of people online in what I said and the way that I said it, but part of it was, A, the way I expressed it, and, B, the fact that I was saying it on Twitter. It's just not the kind of conversation that should've happened on Twitter.

But once you've done it, you've done it. There was no backing out of it, so you get this big backlash. And, to begin with, I started trying to fix it on Twitter. And because of the nature of Twitter, you can't. You can't express emotion. It's very easy to misread one word or misunderstand the context of one word. In the end, what I did is I switched that and I recorded a video. And that was what ended it, partly because it was a video, partly because I backed down.

And I think that's another important thing to say. As well as switching forums is to admit when you've misjudged something and say that you've misjudged something. I'll put a link in the show notes to the post, to the video that I recorded at the end of it. I'm not saying it was perfect by any means, but it gives you an idea maybe of how to handle these things a little bit. Don't insist on having the last word in it all. Don't get defensive. Don't start defending your position. Often, the best thing you can do is disarming honesty, and just say, "Oh, I've really screwed that one up. I really didn't mean to upset people."

Like with that guy that called me the offensive word. I went in and I said, "What have I done to deserve that?" And then, notice as well, with him, that I didn't respond to him publicly. I wrote to him privately, and that's always a really good thing to do, is take the conversation out of the public forum in a way, and just take time … I know, I'm shit at this one. This is do as I say and not as I do. Take time before responding, because it's amazing how you can read things in a totally different way if you just leave an hour or so before you look at it.

And then finally, don't be afraid to block or filter people. My Twitter, if you look at my list of Twitter keywords that I just instantly block, it's a mile long. Sometimes, that's the best way of handling it, so there you go. There's a few thoughts on it. I'm probably the worst person on the planet to give anyone advice over this kind of thing, because I do put my foot in it so regularly, but …

Marcus Lillington: But that's … Just to repeat myself again and repeat you, that's what brings value. You're being honest. You're being yourself, and you're not out there to make an impression and pretend to be somebody else. You're providing real value, and providing value sounds really marketingy and horrible, but genuine value. That's why people follow you. That's why you've got a bazillion followers and I've got one.

Paul Boag: I follow you. I'm sure your wife follows you too.

Marcus Lillington: I've got about 2,000.

Paul Boag: Do you?

Marcus Lillington: But I never-

Paul Boag: That's pretty cool.

Marcus Lillington: I'm never on Twitter, so they must be really bored of me.

Paul Boag: To be honest, if you started posting stuff, in my experience, the more I post, the more people unsubscribe.

Marcus Lillington: They're reminded of you and think, "Oh God, yes."

Paul Boag: "Oh God, why am I following him?"

Marcus Lillington: Brilliant.

Paul Boag: Okay, let's talk about our second sponsor, and then I'll just share with you a few, just a few little things at the end. Our second sponsor is TeamGantt. They're a really interesting product. It's really great to have them on the show and being involved. This is Brett Harned, who I talked about last week on the show. They were sponsoring last week as well. I should make it clear. Brett didn't create TeamGantt. He just happens to be the guy that I know there, because at this point, I'm certain he's going, "Paul, shut up. It's not just me." But it's his email address at the end, so it's fine.

It's a great tool to rescue your team from project chaos and missing deadlines. It's a project management kind of tool. I had to contact them and go, "We've got ResourceGuru as a sponsor on the show. Are you competitors?" And he was like, "No, no. We're friends with the ResourceGuru staff. We do different things." ResourceGuru is about managing your teams and people. TeamGantt is about managing your projects. Using TeamGantt, it's really quick and easy to spot project risks before they become a problem.

They do do … They have team collaboration and communication tools built into it, so that you can communicate around your projects really easily, so you can see every comment, every update, every file upload, everything to do with your project all in one place, easily accessible. And it gets 4.8 out of five stars on G2 Crowd. I don't know what that is, but it's very popular anyway. It's one of the top project management tools on things. He's put in a load of stuff here that's supposed to sound impressive, and I don't know any of it. I guess if you're a project manager, you know what G2 Crowd is? And what's that? Capterra. Capterra? Capterra. Anyway, whatever.

Marcus Lillington: Do you need me to check-

Paul Boag: It's good. Are you checking my notes?

Marcus Lillington: Capterra.

Paul Boag: Capterra. I have no idea what that is.

Marcus Lillington: Me neither.

Paul Boag: No, but it gets 4.8 put of five. That's got to be good, right?

Marcus Lillington: Sounds good to me.

Paul Boag: For something, I don't know. You can sign up for the … I'm so useless. Brett, I am so sorry. You can sign up for the free plan any time by going to, but if you'd like two months absolutely free and you can try out the whole thing with its advanced plan of time tracking, all that, drop an email to Brett. Tell him how crap the sponsored spot was on Boagworld. You can email Brett … I'm sure he'll love to hear this,

Okay, great. Lovely. Thank you very much. Just a few resources in regards to online networking. The first thing I want to say is there's a lot of bullshit out there about online networking. Ignore most of it. It's nasty, distasteful, horrible marketing crap. But there are a few good ones. I actually found a really old post from 2001 or something like that called, "Conflict in Cyberspace …" The fact that it's got cyberspace in the title, that dates it, doesn't it? "Conflict in Cyberspace: How to Resolve Online Conflicts." And it's actually a really good post that is just as applicable if not more so today than it was all the way back then, so check that out.

There was another good post I came across, which was, "Seven Non-Irritating Ways to Network Online." That's a really good one. And another one called. "Seven Tips For Social Networking Online." I'll put a link to all of that in the show notes, but if you Google those phrases that I've just said, it'll come up anyway. It's, "Conflict in Cyberspace: How to Resolve Conflict Online," "Seven Non-Irritating Ways to Network Online," "Seven Tips …" I don't know what it is about seven. "Seven Tips For Social Networking Online."

The other tool that I recommend to anybody that's doing any of this kind of stuff, because you want to do stuff across different social networks. Buffer is a great tool if you've never checked that out. I always have that up and running. And then finally, don't forget to turn up to the Boagworld Slack channel, which is, in my opinion, the single best online community on the internet. Only because I'm there. Everyone else is crap, but they try.

Marcus Lillington: And they're all nobodies as well.

Paul Boag: They try. They're all nobodies, yeah. I don't know why I waste my time with them, but there you go.

Marcus Lillington: Cyberspace. What did we call the internet before cyberspace?

Paul Boag: The Super Information Highway.

Marcus Lillington: Nearly.

Paul Boag: The Information Superhighway.

Marcus Lillington: Superhighway, that's it. Yes, wow.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: We should still refer to it as that.

Paul Boag: I know, because it just trips off the tongue.

Marcus Lillington: Exactly. Do you want a joke now?

Paul Boag: Yeah, go on.

Marcus Lillington: This is two jokes merged into one, from James inaudible 01:02:33 Thomas and Lyle Barris, who was mentioned earlier. First part: A man is suspected of stealing all the wheels of the police cars last week. Police are looking for him tirelessly. Sorry about the inaudible 01:02:48, but it might be the same-

Paul Boag: Hang on a minute, hang on a minute. Paul, Paul in the chatroom, I swear Paul put, "Groan," before the punchline. He'd already typed in, "Groan," ready to go.

Marcus Lillington: Had it ready, like that. Hit it perfectly at the point. It's pretty good. Come on.

Paul Boag: Oh, it's lag apparently. It's a lag problem.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the police think it might actually be the same man that stole all of the toilets from the police station, but the police have nothing to go on.

Paul Boag: Those are quite good. I quite like those two. We have got a bit of lag this week. Hopefully, it won't mess up your recording. Anyway, that's it for this week. Our short show has turned out to be the longest one of the season so far. I'm just determined to keep Marcus from his grandchildren, but we'll call it a day. Congratulations to Marcus and his family. And next week, we're going to be talking about business strategy, so join us again then. Until then, thanks for listening and goodbye.

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