Staying Connected: The Art and Science of Maintaining Networks

Written by:

Filed under: Onlines

Staying Connected: The Art and Science of Maintaining Networks

Things happen in effective networks, and effective networks are active, living networks.

“Your personal power is directly proportional to the strength of your network,” says Dr. Robert Wright, networking expert and CEO of the Wright Business Institute. Ted G. Lewis puts it in the more scientific and behavioral terms of today’s rapidly developing science of networks in Network Science: Theory and Applications: “Synchronization is a byproduct of the structure of ‘living networks.’”

One way to fully engage, build, and maintain your network—with you and your business as a hub—is to produce and effectively distribute timely, high-quality, and relevant communications. Content posted in blogs, sent through online public relations, and published within social networks also helps with natural search optimization. In-person connections like events and meetings, and even casual conversations with friends and acquaintances raise your visibility in your market or community and indicate you are available and ready when needed.

With the massive popularity of and information on social networks, there is no shortage of advice on moving content through social media channels to spark conversation and dialog. The social-media-as-a-marketing-vehicle advice falls into two broad categories:

  1. Use social media as a vehicle for content distribution as long as you are educating and joining rather than pushing marketing materials. Dean Delisle, President and social media trainer at Forward Progress, discusses content distribution on 120Connect.
  2. Create a dialog back and forth because customers no longer need you to help them find information about you and your business. “This is the first time in history that customers and prospects can go out and seek the information of what they want, when they want it, and how they want it delivered,” said Margaret McIntyre, Partner/Creative Strategy and Planning at Mobium Creative Group. “It’s not just about marketers sending out messages” but about becoming an integrated communications hub.

The most critical element of creating and maintaining contact with a network is to use as wide a variety of means as possible—and as often as practical—from emails to blogs to newsletters to social media to phone calls to face-to-face meetings. Here are some ways to maintain contact with a network that we know, from our own experience, work:

  • Publish a networking calendar. We’ve created a Google Networking calendar that lists a variety of upcoming networking opportunities for executives, marketers, entrepreneurs, and innovators that we plan to attend. The selection represents what catches our interest and includes The Executives’ Club of Chicago, Business Marketing Association Chicago, MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Wright Leadership Institute, and more. Each company’s calendar will reflect its own market.
  • Solicit comments on your blog. We wrote a report on white papers a couple years back and were recently interviewed on white paper best practices. In an effort to both promote and update the report, we posted a link with a request for comments on the topic on LinkedIn and sent a request for comment through email. We posted the feedback on our blog and are incorporating it into the next version of the report.
  • Distribute articles through social media. We wrote a summary of recent research in the payments market as part of a promotion surrounding the SIBOS 2009 Conference. We emailed the article to contacts we thought might be interested, posted the article on LinkedIn groups and the SWIFT payments community, and even wrote an article about the article in our August 2009 newsletter.
  • Continue the “old-fashioned” ways. The telephone still works as well as it did when the Bell System advertised in LIFE magazine “You could never without a telephone” in 1953, though most people believe that email gets more response. And in-person meetings—off-line connections, if you will—remain the goal of most network contacts. Perhaps it’s a predictable backlash to connecting online or to continuing travel restrictions, but Hyatt Hotels is using the slogan, “Great Happens When People Get Together” for its current meetings and events promotion.

Finally, remember that the common element—the center of the hub—is you, and the network will only be as effective as you are in engaging with it. The National Research Council concluded, in Network Science: “The ultimate value derived from these engineered networks depends on the effectiveness with which humans use them.”

The message? Humans are social, and, in business, it’s always about relationships.