Being a 3rd generation in the remodeling industry, I have a unique perspective on how personal and professional “networks” have changed over the years. My grandfather planted his roots in the construction industry in 1956, with my Dad following shortly after in 1972. Both of their personal and professional networks were stored in a Rolodex – yeah, my kids have no idea what that means. Being a professional in this era meant you had to write down and memorize phone numbers, keep quarters in your pocket for the phone booth, and always carry your favorite daily planner with plenty of business cards. The most successful professionals from this time knew how to network, but networking too looked different. It was essential to make a physical connection before adding someone to your rolodex, and you had to make an effort to schedule time at networking events in order for the relationships to solidify. Such events might include a chamber mixer, rotary club meeting, a multi-level marketing group, or even a trade show – but if you were not physically present, it was nearly impossible to add to your professional network. Of course, this made networking more challenging, but in my opinion, much more rewarding. When adding your new associate to the rolodex, oftentimes with a note on where you met, job descriptions, or other important notations, these people could be called upon at any time to answer a question or offer to help. We all know based on the size of these filing systems that once you were in the rolodex, it took a lot to remove you. Picking up the phone never began with hesitation, rather it was automatic. However different it may have been, there was always an innate and instinctive desire to connect with others with common interest and goals, almost a pull to become part of a community of peers. Those who learned to overcome their fears about meeting new people or speaking to a larger audience rose to the top, and were oftentimes very successful in business – even likely to have to have purchased inserts for their rolodex!
Fast forward to 2002 and very little has changed in the networking space. Sure there were more events, easier ways of finding peers in the industry, and different ways of storing your contacts, but everything seemed to have changed in 2003 with the invention of myspace.com. Social media outlets, such as myspace.com, began the shift of a different, less personal way of connecting with people. We also started to shift who we connected with, and why – it was a mad dash to gain connections, followers, and likes, to anyone and everyone, regardless of common interest or goals. LinkedIn, Photobucket, Flickr soon cropped up, followed by Facebook and Twitter, and the game has seemed to forever be changed! We said goodbye to the rolodex, the payphone, live television, and the land line. We said hello to the smartphone, laptop computers, email and Tivo! We stopped answering the phone without knowing who was calling, started creating our “social media” profiles, and began canceling networking groups and community involvement.
With social media exploding, as a society, we spent the next 15 years obsessing over our social media personas, the amount of ‘likes’ our posts would gather, and the size of our ‘friend’ list. Yet even with these new forms of network building, did we actually make more friends and create a stronger professional network? Sadly, I would venture to say we did not! We made ourselves less prepared to handle epidemics, like the one in 2020. I watched as our political and social beliefs became more important than some of the connections we’ve had since we were kids – not even family was protected! Social relationships in the digital world made it hard to find the loyal friend that we could call for help, and our social media profiles became so large, distracting, and oftentimes, negative, that we could not even recognize who we were and how we got there! In a study of online communities by the Global Web Index, 45 percent of respondents said they were frustrated with the offensive language and bullying on traditional social media sites. Additionally, 36 percent felt they didn’t have a genuine connection with other users. According to one of the top influencers on the web, Neil Patel, (https://neilpatel.com/blog/niche-communities/) social media has become a digital world that is not enhancing our lives, rather causing frustration and fear. Patel states:
“Social media is a noisy place.When you log onto Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, ready to enjoy some content, you’re bombarded with ads and thousands of posts about all sorts of things—much of which you might not care about.It’s overwhelming at best, and at worst, it makes us feel lonely. For the most part, we aren’t having meaningful discussions or engaging conversations around our biggest passions. Instead, we are mindlessly tapping away or not feeling safe to express ourselves online because of trolls. As a result, people are moving away from crowded online spaces and seeking more curated experiences within niche communities. These platforms bring together people who share interests or experiences—without all the ads and other distractions. With these communities closed off from the rest of social media, they generally become safe places for people to share their thoughts, feelings, and interests.”
This shift to more private, niche, and professional networks is likely overdue and is most likely a response and result of the negativity that has surfaced on social media over the last 10-15 years. Professionally, it is a wake-up call to get back to real networking, find more positive experiences and people, and create more personal connections. This does not mean we are going back to the days of the rolodex – far from it – but it is a positive step in the right direction to finding our way out of modern-day social media outlets and transitioning the foundation into a positive experience in our lives. In my opinion, platforms that continue to allow and invite negativity, click-baiting, and bots, will be left behind, and those that clearly share and promote a positive vision will rise to the top!
I grew up idolizing my Grandfather, Bob, and my Dad, Kurt, for how hard they worked and how willing and able they were to create a real professional network that was full of loyal friends and peers. With that experience in mind, combined with a disappointing experience of what social media has become, I was on a mission to create a niche community for the construction industry. US Construction Zone recently launched in October of 2021, and it is my best attempt to create a positive, rewarding, and helpful online community for construction executives. In his blog post referenced above, Patel went on to say that with niche communities, “you’re connecting with people who get what you’re going through and why you feel a certain way. This fosters a culture of acceptance, which may be hard to find on traditional social media sites.” I am excited to see where US Construction Zone fits into this new trajectory of top-notch networking, and it is truly a rewarding experience to actually grow your network – not quantitatively, but rather in the quality of connections that are formed, the great conversations that are had, and of course, the new friends that are added to our virtual rolodex!