The art and science of digital communication at scale.
There was once a time when the world felt like a much smaller place, where all the people we knew lived close by, and where every relationship we built was in person. The world felt smaller because our networks were smaller; bound by physical proximity and in-person interaction.
Among all the different types of relationships and connections we develop over our lifetime, with family, friends, colleagues, clients, mentors, mentees and more, our networks have become the source of much of the learning, growth and fulfilment we find in life, both personally and professionally. Our networks hold many of the keys to help us find a job, learn new skills, share new ideas, or simply have fun.
In recent decades, man has invented newer means through which can communicate, meet new people, and build relationships. There are now over 1 billion of us using WhatsApp on a daily basis alone. We have created digital technologies which enable us to overcome great distance whilst connecting with others in real time, and expanded the reach of our networks beyond the confines of our immediate environment. Our modern worlds have effectively become larger, not smaller; interacting with more and more people, and with that, finding new and undiscovered relationships, beliefs, cultures, challenges and opportunity. While we can appreciate there has always been many benefits to effective networking, our ability to master effective digital networking can take these benefits and opportunities to another level.
Why Digital Networking?
Effective networking can provide us all with an abundance of opportunities all enabled through building meaningful relationships with others, from opportunities for personal and professional growth to commercial success. Now, by leveraging the power of our networks through digital technology, we can further discover, build, support and manage the relationships which create these opportunities more flexibly and at greater scale. In short, taking our networking activity online can help create more of these opportunities - more learning, more growth, more success.
Connecting at Scale
By reducing or eliminating the need for physical proximity within our social environments through digital technology, we can create an added opportunity to network and build personal or professional relationships more scalably around the world. No longer limited by the needs for creating or maintaining rapport through in-person interaction, communicating remotely through digital channels enables us to seamlessly overcome physical distances and location changes over our lifetimes which might have otherwise threatened our relationships. This not only provides an added element of flexibility and assurance in the survival of our relationships despite changes in our location or immediate environments, but also provides an opportunity for added development and personal growth through an increased element of diversity in our social networks.
With technology enabling us to build and maintain relationships with people from all around the world online, we open our social networks to interacting and sharing with others coming from entirely different backgrounds to our own. Through new interactions with those from different cultures, languages, religious backgrounds and value systems, we build upon our perspective of the world and see it through a more globalised lense. With the World Economic Forum’s recognition of the importance of leveraging an increasingly diverse workforce, adopting digital technology to connect these diverse groups has never been more critical to our social development.
We all know the old adage that in business, “your network is your net worth.” Using digital technology to scale both the breadth and depth of your social network can help in creating many professional benefits, from discovering referral opportunities when job hunting or sharing best practices and learnings from your industry peers, or to building deeper relationships with your clients’ businesses and driving sales. Coupled with a strong personal or professional brand, digital networking can help us in securing speaking event invitations, sourcing investment and more.
At its core, digital networking is powered by data. By creating and connecting large subsets of information from across our networks and aggregating them online; digital-savvy networkers can leverage online tools from social media and other channels to build a deeper understanding of the characteristics and identity of their overall network.
In analysing and profiling our networks, we can build a picture of where they work, what they do, where they live, what they’re interested in and more We can identify the types of people we tend to interact with, and perhaps more importantly, those we don’t. Using the various online analytical tools such as LinkedIn’s alumni insights or Twitter’s follower analysis tool, we are able to build that picture, and also spot potential gaps in our network and where we should look to expand on them, fitting to our own personal and career goals.
Avoid Falling Behind
Our society in increasingly interacting via online social media and digital channels, and while many of these interactions are also happening in-person, those who do not adopt digital communication channels are risking themselves to isolation. Thoughts are found, emotions shared, events organised, relationships built and work is done, all while people are communicating online. If we fail to invite ourselves to the digital party, we can never expect to be part of every conversation.
Who Needs to be Networking Online?
Regardless of your current career stage, industry, or aspirations, we have seen there are near countless benefits to networking for improving either our personal or professional lives, and taking your networking digital can only accelerate these benefits.
From the student, who may be seeking internship experience, to the scientist who discovered their next research partner laboratory across the world through sharing her work online, or the teacher, who collaborates with a peer to arrange a foreign exchange to broaden his students’ mindset, and the startup founder, whose business is rescued from meeting his angel investor. There are few ambitions or goals we seek in life which cannot be helped through networking. Once we come to realise those goals, personal or professional, we can begin to explore the many ways in which networking can help us in achieving them.
At The Touch of a Button
In most cases, effective digital networking doesn’t require many tools and resources we don’t already have. A smartphone, an email address, a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profile? There were over 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions in circulation in 2016, with that number projected to reach over half of the world’s hands by 2020. All of these alone are the perfect media for igniting your digital network. Combined, they can be built into a system for discovering, building, supporting and managing a highly valuable social network at scale. Even more, with a willingness to provide your data to various networking sites and social platforms, most of the effective digital networking tools and technologies available online today are can be used entirely free of charge.
Getting your Digital Networking in Gear
Many of us have a different appreciation or perception of the idea of ‘networking’, as well as different comfort levels with our use of social media and digital technology. While some of us may be social media advocates, connecting daily with friends and connections across the vast multitude of social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, WhatsApp & more on a daily basis, not all users or social adopters feel the same way. Some of us may feel a greater level of concern for our privacy, or perhaps less savvy using a smartphone or browsing online. While the average Facebook user may have 155 friends on their network, some of us may have vastly more, and some might only have a handful. The most important thing to recognise, regardless of your current experience with social media or digital networking, either of these are fantastic starting points!
While not all of us may not be immediately drawn to the idea of networking, Tiziana Casciaro (et al.) highlights how each of us can eventually learn to love networking, by keeping the focus on learning and common interests, maintaining an open mindset, and understanding what value we can bring to the relationship in order to achieve a higher purpose.
Identify Your Goals
The first key step to building an effective digital network is to define your own goals. Ask yourself what it is that you want from life, and how your network could help you achieve that. Your goals can be either personal or professional, such as finding a new job or making friends in a new city. Once you have this picture in mind, you begin to get an idea of the types of people you wish to include in your growing network, and where and how to find them.
The Digital Networking Process
The art of digital networking’ can often seem quite broad and unending. In order to better understand the key steps or action involved in effective digital networking, we have broken the process into 4 key activity stages; discover, build, support & manage.
Discover: Identifying new prospective contacts who can add value to to your network and instigating 2-way interaction with them online.
Build: Developing interactions with newer members of your network to better understand their personality, background, interests and more in order to drive rapport at a personal level.
Support: Maintaining positive rapport through continued regular interaction and sharing in line with each party’s social relationship expectations.
Manage: Developing and organising an effective communication cadence for supporting existing relationships and simultaneously expanding your network.
The Medium is the Message
Just as it is critical to communicate the right message to a prospect or connection in your network, it is also critical how you communicate it. In digital networking, understanding the nature and key characteristics of different tools and social channels online is essential to effectively building and developing your online social network.
In the same way we don’t file for divorce via SMS, or ring someone’s doorbell to find out where they are, they means through which we communicate can say just as much of what we mean as our words themselves. Online, this can mean being able to distinguish when or how to use LinkedIn for a professional connection versus Facebook, or what time is most effective for ensuring a response to your email.
Networking Opportunity (starts with you!)
We will continue to explore the process of digital networking and many of the key questions to help you unlock the power of your identify and ignite your digital network.
Please let us know if there are any areas you would like covered in future posts or if you have any comments and we will look forward to hearing from you!