Social Capital: The Currency of Networking

Social capital and social proof are the currencies of networking and the glue that binds meaningful relationships.

If you don’t know what these are, how they work and how to increase your share of both, you are missing key opportunities to successfully build your network.

What is Social Capital?

Social capital is what we use every time we ask someone for something.

In the startup world, you’re typically going to ask for a connection to someone you do not know. For example, when a founder asks me to make an introduction to a VC (let’s call her Jane), I need to use some of my social capital with Jane to facilitate that introduction. 

This only works if I have pre-existing social capital in the bank with Jane. I need to know her or have interacted with her before. Otherwise, she has little reason to accept an introduction. The deeper my connection with Jane, the more of a trusted source I am for her and the more likely she will read my email and consider my ask.

What is Social Proof?

Now, social proof is when an introduction reciprocates value back to the person you are reaching out to with a request. In my example, I have to ensure the person I introduce Jane to is a valuable match for Jane herself.

Nine times out of 10 people that ask me for an introduction get it wrong. They assume this exchange is about what they will get out of it. For example, they want Jane’s experience, knowledge, money or access to their network. Generally, these are not reasons why Jane — or anyone — would accept a meeting. There must be value in it for the person you are introducing someone to as well as the person asking for the introduction.

How to Ensure You’re Creating Social Value

The goal of any introduction is to provide value to the person you’re asking something from. In my example, it must be clear why Jane would benefit from a meeting with my other contact.

The following are a few examples of potential value offered back to a Jane — aka providing social proof:

  • If your contact’s product would significantly enhance Jane’s company’s profit or efficiency.  
  • If it is a technology that Jane isn’t using but has proven traction in the market.
  • If Jane is professionally interested in what the contact is working on (she tweets about it or write blog posts on the topic).

How it Comes Together

When the introduction successfully provides value to Jane, after I’ve used my social capital and provided social proof, this now equates to more social capital in my bank for future use. A win-win for all involved.

On the other hand, if the introduction wasn’t a good one, which could happen for many reasons such as improper fit, the alignment was completely off, or the founder was ill prepared and wasted Jane’s time, then I will lose significant social capital and risk not being able to use that connection again.

Often times people will give you one pass for a bad intro, but usually not two.

So, if you’re asking someone to go out on a limb for you make sure you do your homework and provide value in return for that person doing you a favor.

Not only will it increase your chances of success exponentially, it will provide for the best possible outcome — more social capital in the bank and value for the person offering their time.