“[N]etworks are always becoming. They are never complete or static.”
(Barber & Waymon, 2007:39)
Define Strategic Networking:
Strategic networking is key to providing an individual with competitive business skills and the social skills needed to communicate effectively whilst demonstrating an understanding of professional awareness. Barber & Waymon (2007:39) point out that ‘networks are always becoming’ therefore suggesting that a set of contacts are forever on going and changeable: the purpose of communication is to expand, increase and multiply with the potential for future engagement. Niden (1992:16) acknowledges that, “as existing networks become integrated into a corporate network utility… an acceptable level of service to network users must be properly structured and managed”. Therefore Niden (1992) identifies that the importance and reasons of strategic networking is to create an appropriate degree of understanding and familiarity to ensure a diverse and strong ‘network paradigm’ (1992:16).
Methods of how to successfully and strategically network will be further identified and discussed, which will continue to expand upon the benefits that can be gained when networking independently or within a group. Niden (1992) continues to add that the definition of a (strategic) network is that which can provide “a framework for the consistent planning (…) and operation”. Considering the degree of similarly between Barber & Waymon’s (2007) modern approach and Niden (1992), strategic networking can be identified as a series of on going events and communication. As identified by Bobo West (cited by D’Souza, 2012) the ‘TRACKER’ model is key to consider when developing an understanding of the ‘networking range’ (2012) and acknowledging the potential ‘gaps’ within a social and professional network that could be expanded through either the ‘transaction; relationship; awareness; care; knowledge; entertainment or religion’, according to West (2012).
The Methods of Strategic Networking:
Professional networking can be organised through various sectors by methods. The process of methods can define the purpose of specific networks and establish the individual’s networking range and available opportunities they may choose to consider (D’Souza 2012). There are numerous ways in which to strategically network, the most effective of those methods is dependant upon the type of characteristics an individual has and their preference to how diverse they wish their network to become, depending on their networking goals. I will therefore identify some of the methods that can be used in order to achieve successful strategic networking in order to effectively expand a set of professional contacts.
Attending professional social networking events can be very effective, depending on the type of networking event. The potential contacts that could be established becomes higher, as professional networking events tend to host formal or informal spaces where group conversations can become facilitated. Therefore, an individual’s awareness of their professional presence becomes heightened, as they are conscious of the impression they are giving (meaning their own awareness of body language and positive impressions will be increased). Barber & Waymon (2007:221) point out that, ‘…what you actually gain from a conference depends on how you interact with the other attendees’, therefore first impressions are key to consider whilst attending these events and being included, facilitating or initiating group discussions. If demonstrated correctly, a professional presence can be reciprocated by the group that will begin to shape the networking process, and stimulate an exchange of business cards, details and further information of career profiles, relevant to the type of networking event attended.
I therefore consider the emotional and social relationship that can become present during discussions, such as those at professional conference events to network, in order to examine how effective a professional/ social relations will become. Burkitt (2014:137) identifies ’emotional labour’ and the emotions we encounter during a social experience: “one is always affected in some ways by the other, by what they say or do, and this can be involuntary in the sense that we are not always entirely in control of our emotions”. Therefore, how an individual acts and presents himself or herself during a social/ professional encounter will become reflected by the response of their participant(s). The individual will become aware if they have demonstrated the appropriate verbal and visual appearances dependent on the participant(s) response to continue to network with them.
Barber & Waymon (2007) suggest that prior to attending any social networking event or conference, the individual should first establish their personal agenda in order to acknowledge their motives on what they expect to gain from attending. Such as: ‘discovering new resources; specialise expertise; solve specific problem(s) and engage in success that may have already been experienced,’ (2007:222). Therefore displaying a mature approach that uses appropriate time and space opportunities can be effective for strategically networking successfully.
Volunteering to speak to an audience can effectively increase a social network. However, this can be reliant on an individual’s sense of self-confidence and ability to present, which is an additional skill of a successful social networker. Presenting to audiences about a subject they can specifically relate to will be an effective way for an individual to expand their network. Determining the type of audience in relation to the nature of the presentation and the type of contacts this may establish is important to consider prior to organising performativity.
Once a social network is established, the ability to continue expanding the network can be rapidly increased and advanced. However, the replacement of old contacts with the new can tend to cause neglect in terms of communication. Therefore, travel (either internationally or nationally) can prove to rekindle contacts that may have otherwise been forgotten. The importance of re-connecting with an old contact, either through physically travelling or through the use of online social platforms that mobile technology provides, can lead to establishing new contacts that stem from previous connections.
Despite the availability of mobile technologies, the importance of travel and face-to-face connections should not be overlooked: simply by speaking to types of potential contacts that may not usually be approached can broaden an individual’s perspective of how they understand the facilitation of communication. International contacts, reached through travel, can help support and maintain a cultural wellbeing of an individual that therefore allows their career profile to become established as increasingly competitive.
It is important for strategic networking, specifically within modern businesses, is to consider the increase of international contacts. Within modern businesses this is now becoming a specific requirement, rather than a request or a desirable attribute to a company. Professionally networking in creative industries through online platforms, such as LinkedIn (Hoffman et al 2003), provides a certain degree of digital facilitation that enables international contacts to become established and connected. The method of using online mediation is key to social networking (online). However, it should be considered that to successfully do this is by gaining additional (online) exposure requires the creation of relevant and shareable content in order to demonstrate a status of ‘expert’ within a specific ‘field’ that viewers can relate to, in order to expand a network through digitally sharing online. Simply through acknowledging other users or ‘followers’ content by a series of ‘likes’, with who have have previously connected re-affirms the original interest and begins to shape the online platform as more tailored to a specific agenda, that will become visually apparent through the online ‘newsfeed’ (Hoffman et al 2003). However, as pointed out by Buzan (1991:28) “if your company does not become a learning organisation, it will become a dead organisation.” Therefore the importance to become adaptable to modern social and professional networks is key to identify and significant to pursue.
Strategic networking is important, within the distribution of modern businesses of international that can give a company a competitive edge. Increased individual confidence; expansion of knowledge and establishing ethical cultural awareness, especially within contemporary society, can be formed by strategic networking. Knowledge is shaped through interaction and social relations; Kuby (2008) identifies how emotions can be constructed through social relations. The methods of establishing relationships (professionally and socially) continue to become developed, as Kuby (2008) suggests, through the on going process of social interaction. An individual’s emotional maturity can continue to be shaped during the continuation of establishing professional networks, which can benefit as an understanding of what is acceptable and what is not within specific social norms, such as the workplace in comparison to social spaces, therefore becomes identified and conformed to.
The more diverse the professional (and social) network gained, through a variety of methods, the stronger it will remain to be; due to the consideration of numerous beliefs, various cultures and a established knowledge of ethnic diversity that will remain to place the individual in a competitive career position. A diverse network allows a pool of networks, as previously mentioned, enables a rich sense of knowledge to be formed and therefore provides the individual with the tools and ability to use communication strategically within the professional workplace. A diverse network, including international contacts as well as different ages, sexual orientations, skillsets and abilities can help strengthen a network by providing an individual with ethical awareness, understanding and patience. An individual with such a diverse network can provide a clear competitive edge that will be desirable for prospective companies, as it will begin to illustrate their ability to communicate with a variety of individuals, groups and social/ professional sectors.
Ultimately, the benefit of networking strategically, establishes smoother interaction and operation of communication, both professionally or socially.
The Key Skills Required to be a Successful Networker:
The core of a successful networker is the confidence to use the method of the social interaction as opportunity. Oppertunities such as attending networking events or travelling must be utilised to the best of their ability. Therefore, the first key skills of a successful networker is to be presentable and confident in order to make an networking event useful and tailored to their preferred identified network.
Self-presentation is important to consider, when identifying the key skills of a successful social networker. Establishing a positive impression when meeting with an individual for the first time creates opportunities for further communication and effective networking. Due to contemporary culture being recognised as a visual culture, (Attwood 2009) first impressions tend to be based upon the appearance of the individual, which includes the portrayal of body language and how this is perceived by the potential contact. The term used that determines visual first impressions is: ‘VAK’: ‘Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic’. A successful social networker will be able to maintain a welcoming and visually pleasing approach: supported by an open body language that speaks a sense of comfort ability and approachability. Body language that contains positive connotations, such as smiling and acknowledgment during conversations by nodding, maintains a degree of positivity therefore maintaining an audience’s engagement. In social networking events, that may require the individual to engage in-group conversations and maintain eye contact equally within the group in order to illustrate certain awareness, despite some potential contacts being more useful/ beneficial than others. Verbal communication is also vital to consider. In terms of tone of voice and how one adapts to fit the specific requirements of a culture and space, (Jenkins 2006). Maintaining a consistent and passive voice is key when social networking, for instance if the individual was to change their accent halfway through a professional discussion this may trouble their audience and therefore may decrease engagement of the contacts.
In conclusion, establishing networks is an ever changing and on going process that can occur in either social or professional events and spaces. Acknowledgement of which methods to use in the most relevant circumstances, such as adopting a professional verbal and visual appearance at network conferences/events, is important to consider. The business tool, identified by West (2012) as ‘TRACKER”, can be additionally used in order to organise social and professional networks. A type of documentary method that can demonstrate visual representation of established social networks stems from the original ‘mind map’ method identified by Buzan (1990). This visual representation of a strategic network map, each contact is connected to a ‘branch’, which is identified as a ‘tie’ that can either be weakly or strongly connected to the individual. Assessing these types of relationships is important to establish during methodically ‘mapping’ a social network, as it can produce the understanding of the ‘connecting’ individuals who keep the weak ‘ties’ connected to the stronger established networks. These ‘connecting’ individuals are primarily for individuals who have mutual interests for their personal benefits. I will continue to demonstrate this through my own strategic network map, including social and professional relationships, including internationally, acknowledging both sectors that may have been recently neglected and those I continue to communicate frequently with. I will identify the various sectors through visual representation by colour coordination. This analysis will therefore help shape future goals and identify an outline of my future potential in social and professional networking.
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Burkitt, I. (2014) ‘Emotions and Social Relations’ SAGE publications (137)
Buzan, T. (1991) “Management Review” 28 Volume 80(5)
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Hoffman, R. (2003) “About Us” About LinkedIn [online] available from https://press.linkedin.com/about-linkedin
Jenkins, H. (2006) “Convergence Culture where old and New Media Collide” [online] available from < http://www.emerymartin.net/FE503/Week8/Jenkins-ConvergenceCulture-Intro.pdf>
Kuby, C.R (2012) “OK this is hard: Doing Emotions in Social Justice Dialogue” SAGE Publications
Mergel, N. (2012) “Social Media in the Public Sector A Guide to Participation, Collaboration & Transparency in the Networked World” New York: Wiley
Niden, H. (1992) “Framework for Network Planning” Informations Systems Management 9thedn. (4) 16-17 [online] available from: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/delivery?sid=338990fb-1d85-4fbb-ae7f-eb8a642dc10d%40sessionmgr114&vid=2&hid=107&ReturnUrl=http%3a%2f%2fweb.b.ebscohost.com%2fehost%2fdetail%2fdetail%3fsid%3d338990fb-1d85-4fbb-ae7f-eb8a642dc10d%2540sessionmgr114%26vid%3d1%26hid%3d107%26bdata%3dJnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%253d%253d