I surely do not qualify as a social networking expert, guru or thought-leader as the world clearly has plenty of those, but I will respond to the best of my ability. I think that despite all the chatter, and noise and expertise, there is still substantial confusion and misunderstanding about networking…what it really is, how it really works, why it is really valuable. And whether you are networking in real life or on Facebook, this confusion and misunderstanding is what negatively impacts peoples ability to build and use real social capital.
I do not think that there is any such thing as “new age networking”, networking is networking. We do however have a growing array of new tools to use in our networking efforts and I think that many of them are quite powerful…if used appropriately.
Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook (a few of my favorites) do not replace phone calls or face to face meetings, but they do allow me to really tap into some of the characteristics of networks that phone calls, hand shakes and lunch meetings do not.
Twitter allows me to find a lot of new people and very easily develop a basic connection to them that may or may not evolve. I can bring a great deal of diversity into my network (professional diversity, geographic diversity and other types of diversity) that I would have a really hard time connecting to in other ways. As you know, diversity is one of the things that can make a network really powerful. And it is easy for me to experiment with Twitter…I can easily follow and un-follow people.
LinkedIn allows me to really tap into the exponential nature of my network, as I can not only tap into the ideas, experiences and perspectives of the people that I am directly connected to, but I can also tap into the people that they are connected to…and the people that they are connected to. The numbers get pretty big, pretty fast. The exponential nature of a network often remains hidden and under-utilized in the world of phone calls and handshakes.
So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I think that there is nothing really new about social capital, going back to How To Win Friends and Influence People…maybe going back further than that. We do however have a lot more research on how networks form and function, and we certainly have new tools to apply to our efforts to build social capital. Regardless of what we are using it is the quality of the those interactions that makes them matter…and yes, I agree there are people that think they are doing more networking than ever before, but they are only collecting numbers.