NZIM COMMENT : Successful Networking – The Rules Of Engagement

There is plethora of networking options available. They have been important as far back as the medieval confraternal time of “brotherhoods” and “clans”. Today’s technologically advanced post-modernistic societal networkers have given the phenomenon new meaning however.
The Oxford Dictionary lists the meanings of networking as follows:
• Network – intransitive verb to build up or maintain informal relationships, especially with people whose friendship could bring advantages such as job or business opportunities. An extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.
• Networking – the process or practice of building up or maintaining informal relationships, especially with people whose friendship could bring advantages such as job or business opportunities.
• Social network – social network service focuses on the building in verifying of online social networks for communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others, and which necessitates the use of software.
The purposes of networking today are either for business or social (personal) interactions of commonly interested links of people.
The earliest internet-based social network sites located and linked people. Classmates – www.classmates.com and Trade Me’s www.oldfriends.co.nz are examples. These social media websites help members find, connect and keep in touch with friends and acquaintances from throughout their lives. They are friendship-based models.
These models have proliferated. They now include Facebook, My Space, Blinker.me, Twitter and Bebo. This kaleidoscopic array of internet-based social network sites offers different designs each with slightly varying and evolving application.
Facebook is now the most visited social network, with nearly 1.2 billion visits in January this year. That is an increase of 36 percent on December, and 256 percent up on the previous 12 months. MySpace slipped into second place at the end of 2008 and since September of that year the number of visits has levelled off at about 810,000 month.
Social networking sites have become an important business tool for strategic marketers. They help businesses obtain better search engines or ranking as messages are conveyed from advertisers to public.
One of the challenges for social media, however, is to show the kind of positive return-on-investment to attract companies to invest more in social media marketing.
Research from social media platform Wetpaint and digital consulting firm Altimeter Group found that “companies with the highest levels of social media activity increased revenues by an average 18 percent in the last 12 months. The least active saw sales drop six percent over that period.”
Marketing strategies must constantly adapt to different market environment dimensions. Customers and prospects now have unlimited access to products and services and constantly search for profitable prospects online. If product is not advertised on the internet it could well be left out of the game.
Social network sites are becoming increasingly popular – and not just with generations X and Y. My baby boomer contemporaries are increasingly comfortable and adept with this new communications technology and the instant messaging and interaction benefits it delivers.
Among those benefits are the free offerings including remote access for PDAs, modern mobile phones and laptops that can be carried in purse or pocket. Some social network sites also offer free media tools, such as You Tube. With video added or downloaded free, this is fantastic attraction for modern day marketers.
More businesses are using internet-based social networks to market their products and services. The exception is probably Facebook, which is more geared towards people wanting to maintain personal contacts than drive commercial and/or publicity intentions.
The low uptake costs of social networks make them attractive to entrepreneurs looking to expand their business contact base. Given that it is internet based, the catchment for this form of communication is limited only by the ability of the networker to invest in the knowledge and time required for data entry, response and constant monitoring.
I’m convinced that social networking is commercially valuable and can be used successfully for both business and personal networking. I’m equally convinced, however, that the everyday face-to-face networking we have done for years remains critically important to business success.
A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom questioned 500 small businesses and found that two-thirds of small-to-medium (SMEs) enterprises were networking personally at least once week. And 38 percent of the respondents said the activity was crucial to their business success and they were prepared to devote money and time in the pursuit of ever-expanding networks.
Businesses are taking both internet-based and face-to-face networking seriously. SMEs understand that patience is virtue when it comes to meeting new contacts. They recognise that networking is not about fulfilling immediate business leads but, more about getting to know people. Face-to-face networking is an ideal tool for start-up companies in which they can meet variety of contacts in an organised and structured networking event.
The new networker must, however, realise that results take time. Don’t expect to achieve orders for products and services at the first network function. Spend time developing and building the relationship and build database of contacts and prospects.
Successful networking requires carefully considered and prepared networking strategy.
Before you attend your first networking meeting or go online consider the following questions:
1. What is your target market?
2. What is your unique selling proposition?
3. Who is likely to have access to your target market and how can you get to meet and know them?
Networking takes time. Build the relationship. Prepare your opening discussion points. Listen carefully and follow up.
Networking is positive and rewarding experience and it delivers many benefits, however you do it.
It can assist you to build your database of qualified prospects; allow you to meet other people who may be able to assist you through support, such as mentoring or independent advice. Networking can generate leads and referrals and cultivate formal and informal contacts. Seek out relationships that are beneficial for all parties and build relationships on the basis of goodwill, trust and empathy.
Long-term mutually beneficial relationships frequently begin through networking opportunities. The use and care of these networks is critical and valuable. Over time, customers and suppliers become much more than just business associates.
Networking involves using the power of interaction to develop common views of looking at things – use your networks wisely.
Remember, the old adage: “It’s not what you know – but who you know.” Networking is not just about rocking up to gathering, shaking hands and collecting cards. It’s about developing relationships of mutual benefit. You will get out of networks precisely what you put in.

Kevin Vincent is CEO of NZIM Southern.

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