For some people, the idea of networking seems less appealing than dental extraction. You’re in a room full of people you don’t know, and you have to ‘make contacts’. Business networking gets a bad rap.
But let’s look at it objectively. Talking to people, making alliances, helping others, and finding people you can trust… They are hardwired into whatever it is that makes us human. We are social beings.
The ‘Social Network’ that is Facebook did not become a global colossus because it invented something new. It did so, because it gave us an easier way to do what we do naturally: connect with other people.
Strip it of its management-speak baggage, and networking is not just a big idea. It is The Big Idea that gave humans our route to world domination. It is the source of our common humanity.
Why do We Need Networking?
For most of us – and almost certainly you, if you are reading this – our work involves people. You rely on them for:
- getting your next job
- buying your products or services
- supplying the materials or people you need
Pretty much everything, in fact. And that will remain true, until AI (Artificial Intelligence) genuinely becomes a dominant player on global business and public service. And even then, you’ll rely on people for company, conversation, sport, and a social life.
So the reality of networking – starting, maintaining, and building relationships – is simple… None but a few people can do without it.
What gets in the way, is the business/corporate/management mumbo-jumbo that seems to surround the word.
What is Networking?
Take this definition, from Investopedia (18 May 2018):
Networking is a process that fosters the exchange of information and ideas among individuals or groups that share a common interest… Professionals connect their business network through a series of symbolic ties and contacts.
Do you see what I mean? It gets worse before it gets better. This is from Wikipedia (18 May 2018):
Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.
But it does get better (I promise I’ll stop soon).
The Entrepreneur.com Encyclopedia page (18 May 2018) defines networking like this:
Developing and using contacts made in business for purposes beyond the reason for the initial contact. For example, a sales representative may ask a customer for names of others who may be interested in his product.
A Helpful Definition of Networking
Let’s start with Jon Warner, author of the Networking Pocketbook. He doesn’t give a definition of networking. Rather, he gives eight. This is in line with his assertion – that I agree with – that networking is:
a major social and life skill to be used in both business/organisational and a personal setting
We have to Talk about Online Social Networking
As I suggested in the introduction, the online social networks are nothing more than a technological attempt to replicate some aspects of effective person-to-person interactions. And, just as in real life, our social interactions are in many circles:
- Family and Friends – Facebook
- Communities of Interest – Instagram
- Work and Professional – LinkedIn
- Comment and Banter – Twitter
And there are plenty of others. These have become some of the most successful players in the industry (and, indeed, some of the biggest businesses on the planet) because they better replicate the features people most value, than their competitors. But they do nothing fundamental that people have not been doing for many thousands of year. It’s just that they move the conversations from the inner table, club, office, or bar to their website or app.
How to Network
The Networking Pocketbook is one of many, many sources of good advice for business people, managers, and professionals, on how to network well, in the work context. Jon Warner suggests a four-step process of:
It’s a pleasing acronym, that captures a lot of excellent guidance and tips.We’ll take a quick look at what lies behind each of these stages.
This is a set up stage, where you need to think about what you want to get out of networking. It’s also helpful to think about your personal style and what you need to do to hone your networking skills. Warner offers you four ‘networking types’, that have different approaches:
– who doesn’t do much networking
– who simply wants to chat and maybe make friends
– whose approach is transactional at best and exploitative at worst
– who is prepared to invest long term in making the relationship worthwhile for both parties
This stage starts with building up the assets you’ll need for networking and matures into investing in the new relationships you form, at their early stages.
As you’d expect, this is like looking after a small shoot of a plant and helping it grow into a healthy and mature thing. This is when you’ll be able to start to harvest the benefits of your investment.
A relationship can last a lifetime. But, only if you continue to look after it. That means continuing investment. But, done well, that relationship can bud off into new shoots, as you each introduce new contacts to the other. It’s the network you form as much as the individual relationships, that can fuel your career, and your social life.
What is Your Experience of Networking?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.
To learn more…
The Networking Pocketbook is full of tips, techniques, and tools to build an maintain successful relationships that will enhance your professional an social life.
And, if you want to learn a little bit more about the science of social network analysis, take a look at our article about Karen Stephenson: Social Network Analysis.