Your professional network is one of your most valuable assets. Those in your network provide you with ideas, knowledge, skills, feedback, referrals and new business. Your network puts YOU on steroids — allows you to perform faster and better. Your professional reputation, effectiveness and ultimate worth, are directly proportionate to the value of your network. A 10X increase in the value of your network could literally increase your income tenfold.

Social media is an awesome tool. It puts everyone you need to know to advance your career and increase your income within reach. You have probably already witnessed the power of this awesome tool. Someone you know, or someone you are just one or two degrees of separation from, can give you just about anything you need to be successful – a job, a new client, a purchase order, a life-changing insight. But with all its vastness and boundless promises, social media also suffers from the law of diminishing returns. You can have so many connections and so much activity (noise) in your network, that it becomes counter-productive.

There is a ton of research on the effectiveness of teams, communities, extended networks, and the limits of the number of relationships that one person can practically maintain, before it becomes pointless or counter-productive. If the people on Linkedin who call themselves LIONS and have 10,000 connections think they are any more effective or valuable than people who only have a few hundred connections, they are deluding themselves. Collecting connections is like collecting pennies. The large jar looks impressive, but when you add it all up you barely have enough to buy lunch. If you build your network properly, your jar will be full of silver dollars. That would be a 100X increase in value.

To increase the value of your professional network by 10X, you need to improve the quality of your network and the value that you provide to those in it.

Eventually, the social media platforms will automatically organize and manage your network(s) according to the best, most relevant connections that you need to have at any one moment in your career (or project). The right people will automatically appear in your network, without you having to invite them, and you will automatically appear in their networks.

The platforms will know what stage you are at in your career, what you are currently working on and who you are working with, then connect you with the right people, companies and interest groups, to exponentially improve your desired outcomes. You will have a limited number of relationships to foster and maintain, but they will be the right ones at that point in time. Until the social media algorithms evolve to this state, you sort of need to do it manually, or as I do, with the help of Excel.

To improve the value of your professional network by 10X, you should do three things:

1. Organize your connections into concentric rings based on what you want to accomplish over the next 12-18 months. (I personally accomplished this task by downloading all of my data from Linkedin, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, then used Excel to group them. You might find other tools more suitable. Here are the suggested groupings, which I call “rings”:

a. Inner Circle – these are your allies and closest compadres. Research shows the ideal number is 9, but no more than 12. These people are mission-critical to your success in the next 12 months.

b. Colleagues – these are the movers and shakers in your space. They are your peers and your mentors. They have deep knowledge and strong connections that you can leverage. Research shows that the ideal number of close colleagues that you can reasonably maintain strong and reciprocal relationships with is between 20 and 25.

c. Community – these are like-minded people who share similar goals, aspirations, and interests. They are your tribe. They are probably already organized around interest groups and forums. The number of people in your community should be about 150. This is often referred to as Dunbar’s Number, the maximum number you can have to maintain stable relationships.

d. Network – these are the people in your extended network. Those on Linkedin, Twitter, Google+, Facebook (for companies), Instagram, Vine, etc. This is the total pool of people you can draw from, to pull into your more valuable, concentric rings, depending upon your current circumstances.

This exercise should be done at least annually. People will move in and out of these rings. You should always be adding to your network (the outer ring) and promoting people to your inner rings, or demoting people within the inner rings back to the outer rings. Your life and career are not stagnant; so neither should be your professional network. To maximize its value, it needs to be fluid and dynamic.

2. Rank all of the touch points you have with the people within your concentric rings, then use those rankings to foster, enhance and maintain those relationships. Focus on the connections that provide you with the most valuable touch points. This is a time-consuming exercise. It took me three days to do it with my connections, but it has already paid huge dividends. This exercise also helps to inform which of your connections should be in which rings.

The list above includes just some of my touch points. You might have others and you might rank them differently, but I think you get the idea. You can’t treat all of your connections equally, nor should you. Measuring the various touch points and ranking them according to short-term and long-term value is a good way to determine who you should invest time and effort with over the next 12-18 months.

3. Increase the number of “gives” to those in your network in proportion to which ring they fall within. Judiciously monitor the number of “asks” in the same proportion. Those in your inner circle need a lot of love, and you should expect a lot of love from them in return. Healthy relationships are about give-and-take. If you have ever been in a one-sided relationship, you know it is not very rewarding.

A strong professional network is governed by the law of reciprocity. Always be looking to give and don’t hesitate to ask in equal proportions. Those that repeatedly do not reciprocate should be demoted to the outer rings. Those that reciprocate, or give without asking, should be promoted to your inner rings, especially if what they give advances your 12-18 month goals.

Do not confuse reciprocity with tit for tat. Just because someone shares one of your posts or endorses you for a skill, does not mean you have to do the same for them. It doesn’t have to be one-for-one, but your gives should be increasingly valuable to those in your first three rings.

For example, I recommend and refer people to those in my inner circle. I know their goals and I’m always looking for ways to add value to their goals. I read,comment on and share most of the posts written by my colleagues. I followthose in my community, join the groups they are in, and try to jot each of them a personal email at least once a year. For those in my network, I try to write good posts that help them in their professional endeavors, and I read and liketheir updates when I have time.

Whenever I have asked anything of the people inside these inner rings, they have always give back in spades. That is how I have achieved a 10X increase in the value of my network.

It would be awesome if the social media platforms enabled you to simply drag-and-drop your connections into these kinds of groupings, then ranked them according to the value you prescribed to each of your touch points with them. I would love to get an email or text each week from the platform that says something like:

“Hey Mike, check out Bob Smith in your community, he would like to meet Amit James and you are connected to Amit. Also, don’t forget to read Ian’s post and write a recommendation for Bonnie, they are high value colleagues.” (The platform should suggest my weekly gives.)

I would also love an email or text that says, “Hey Mike, I see you started to do some work for XYZ company. One of your inner circle, José González, knows one of their board members and can probably introduce you. One of your colleagues, Margaret Finney, can also refer you to Frank Hutchinson, who happens to be in the market for your services. You might also want to promote Alicia Keys from your network to your community, she has been adding a lot of value to those in her community. (The platform should suggest my weekly asks.)

Until the social media platforms get smarter, you’ll need to be smarter and more diligent about how you organize and manage your professional network for maximum value. Good luck!

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