In the best Malcolm Gladwell book, the Tipping Point, Glad well defines networks and people in networks. He assigns people in the network to one of four roles: participant, connector, maven and sales person. Many of us start out in a network as a participant. That is, we are in a network, but not commanding attention or effectively linked to many other people. Most people in a network are participants.

Increasingly it is helpful to become a connector – to know a fair number of people and to help others make connections to other participants in the network. To be a connector you need to 1) know a fair number of people in your network and 2) be willing and able to make connections between participants. To make connections, you need to understand WIIFT – what’s in it for them? Both the individual who requests a connection and the individual you connect to are asking themselves – what is in it for me? Too many connections can weigh down people or cause ineffective networks. Others may worry that everyone you connect to them wants something, and this is another important point.

The folks at TechStars have a mantra that I’ve grown to like a lot. They talk about “giving first”, and this is a good idea in a network. Ask yourself what you can give to the network or people within the network, before or as you ask for things from the network. You may be able to give: introductions, connections, introduce new information or people to the network and much more. Always think about what you can offer your network – your friendship, your help, your insight and your knowledge.

Eventually you may be come a connector, or if you have deep knowledge about a subject, an industry, a technology or something else you may become what Gladwell calls a “Maven”. Connectors are people who know a lot of people and are good at connecting them. Mavens can be connectors, but they are often connected “to” because of what they know, not whom they know. Finding connectors and mavens in your network is vital, because the first is connected to everyone and actively works his or her network. Mavens aren’t necessarily aggressive connectors but have a lot of knowledge that other people seek out, so working closely with mavens and with connectors increases your opportunity of reaching more of the network.