Remember when six degrees of separation was a thing? The idea was that, for every person on the planet, you were no more than six personal connections away.
These days, we’re often no more than one degree of separation away from anyone that we’d like to meet, thanks to the ability to quickly and easily reach out via the Internet.
I was inspired by recent posts by Scott Dinsmore (How to Add Real Value to Very Successful People) and Tyler Tervooren (8 Emails That Changed The Author’s Life) to document some of the unlikely connections I’ve made as a writer and freelancer.
Here are seven ways of reaching out that you might want to try:
1. Send an e-mail.
About six months ago, I decided to write a level-headed, middle-of-the-road article about the GMO debate. I suspected that it could go big, but I wasn’t really sure where to publish it. So I reached out to several big names in science.
One of them was Steven Pinker, one of my all-time favorite science writers, and professor of language at Harvard. He was quick to respond, letting me know that, “If you lose ‘fucking’ in the second sentence, you’ll multiply the number of possibilities.”
Hearing back from someone so well-respected who liked my article — and who had every reason to ignore my e-mail — was a big confidence-boost. Plus, I appreciated the irony of getting a language tip from one of the world’s best linguists.
2. Respond to a request for advice.
This past summer, I saw a post by Leo Babauta on Google+ mentioning that he was traveling to LA, and asking his readers if they knew of any vegan restaurants he should try out. Since I’m pretty well-versed in the vegan scene, I mentioned a few of my favorites.
Before I knew it, he’d responded to those of us who had offered suggestions, inviting us to meet up with him a few days later at one of those very restaurants. Leo was such a friendly and unassuming host that I didn’t even realize until afterwards just how big a name he was in the blogosphere. I learned a lot from my conversations with him and the other guests.
3. Place a call using Clarity.fm.
Clarity is a great tool to set up one-on-one phone calls with people you respect or admire. That’s how I reached out to Alexis Grant, editor at Brazen Careerist, to get her feedback on how best to grow my career as a writer.
Clarity charges a fixed rate per minute for your phone call (and in Alexis’ case, she donates the proceeds to Charity:Water), which ensures that both parties value their time accordingly. We spoke for about 20 minutes for a cost of just over $20.
4. Reach out on Twitter.
A few months ago, I noticed that Jesse Bering, who writes about sex and psychology for Scientific American, had a new book coming out. I’d enjoyed his earlier books, so I reached out on Twitter asking him if there was any way I could get a review copy. I fully expected a “sorry, the publisher won’t allow it,” or some other response.
Instead, he replied with the contact info for his publicist and told me to get in touch. I was able to read an early copy of the book and write a review on my site, which he subsequently shared with his followers. Then, a month later, I stopped by his book-reading event in LA to say hello and chat about other publishing outlets.
5. Connect via the comments.
Internet comment boards aren’t known for being great places to connect with people — but in some cases, they can be. You’ll notice that a lot of the bloggers you admire tend to frequent each other’s sites, and get into quality (and sometimes heated) discussions on articles and message boards.
This past week, I was over at Advanced Riskology reading Tyler’s post on whether or not purchasing a house can be a smart investment. It was interesting to scroll through the comments section to read an impassioned rebuttal by Adam Baker of ManVsDebt, and to get into an exchange about tiny houses with Ethan Waldman of Cloud Coach.
While interacting on comment boards may not be as immediately effective as phone calls and e-mails, they’re a great, low-pressure way to build relationships and get to know writers whom you may be able to connect and collaborate with later on.
6. Get interviewed on a podcast.
If you haven’t done many interviews before, it might be intimidating to reach out to a well-known podcast host for an interview. But remember — these hosts need interview subjects to make their shows valuable to their audience. As long as you’re comfortable speaking in a podcast setting, and have some interesting life experiences to talk about, most podcast hosts will be grateful to you for reaching out to them.
Recently, I’ve booked slots with Entrepreneur On Fire and The Conversation Hub, and I’m planning to reach out to BlogCastFM in the near future. Just be sure that the podcast is on a relevant subject and that you’ve listened to a few episodes to get a sense of the host’s interests and interview style.
7. Try something new.
These approaches have worked great for me, but there are dozens of other ideas out there. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
My biggest success came about when I posted my GMO article on a brand-new blogging platform called Medium It was added to the Editors’ Picks and promoted on Twitter, and racked up thousands of views in a matter of days. It wasn’t something I could have planned for, but it ended up getting me lots of new subscribers and a chance to write for Slate.
If you’re reaching out to the right people, you’re bound to make the connections that you’re looking for. It’s just a matter of time.
And if someone that you’ve reached out to doesn’t respond? Don’t stress out about it.
With so many people competing for attention, it’s inevitable that some of your attempts will get lost in the shuffle. You can always try reaching out again a few month’s later.
Or who knows? Maybe your online profile will have grown since then and your hero will be reaching out to you instead.