Unless you’ve been on a remote tropical island or in a coma the past several years, you have heard that the emergence of the Web as a place for social and professional networking is well underway. It seems like a long time ago when the Internet was perceived by and large as a place where people researched information, played games, or made purchases in a very solitary fashion.
In an ExecuNet newsletter article this week, Robyn Greenspan observes, “Fast-forward and the pendulum has not only swung in the other direction, it has spun off its hinge.” Today there is a tremendous amount of interactivity via blogging, user groups (such as Yahoo groups), and forums on specialty and professional websites, while the use of networking sites such as LinkedIn, Ryze, and others is literally exploding. In a recent study, LinkedIn was shown to be one of the fastest-growing Web 2.0 sites, reporting more than 12 million members. (“Web 2.0” refers to a new breed of interactive websites that allow users to create their own content.) Ryze, a business networking site, boasts more than 500,000 members in more than 200 countries.
The question Mr. Greenspan poses is whether these “virtual” relationships have sustainability. Experts’ opinions seems to be mixed, with only 39% in a 2004 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey concurring that use of the Internet will expand people’s networks substantially wider than has been the case historically, and that these networks will have a trust-enhancing effect on society and equip people with broader access to resources for job search and other uses. Many seem to feel that while we may gain a large number of casual acquaintances, we will not form deep attachments with most of them.
Certainly this jibes with what happens in more traditional social and professional network building. While most of us have a substantial number of acquaintances through work, church, and professional and social activities, generally we have only a handful of really close friends. Although we do not develop close relationships with all of our acquaintances, certainly we do enjoy benefits from those relationships in the form of pleasant social interactions, introductions to new people, etc.
Perhaps the importance of the online network building phenomenon is a bit overblown, but by the same token, finding and building long-lasting, productive, and reciprocal relationships with a limited circle of contacts that you would likely never have met through traditional avenues seems to be worth the relatively minimal effort required. Since by far most positions filled result from networking or referral—particularly for senior executives, there would appear to be no downside to expanding your network in cyberspace. As Mr. Greenspan put it: “While some may dispute the value of social networks, one thing is clear: Senior-level executives continually agree that networking most often leads to career opportunities for them, and search firms and corporate recruiters are finding the majority of their candidates through their connections.”
So while you continue to cultivate and grow your “traditional” network, I recommend that you sit down at your keyboard and dive in to the new world of online networking.
Posted by Laurie Smith