Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.
I was invited to a coffee morning yesterday with some other parents at my son’s school. Although several weeks earlier, I’d told the person organizing it that I would definitely be there, on the day – as so often happens – I wondered whether I really should bother. After all, I had an exercise class to go to right afterwards. And several job applications to fill out with looming deadlines. And. And. And.
But in the end, I did go. And I’m really glad that I did. Because not only was it enjoyable, it also proved to be an excellent networking opportunity. I ended up chatting with two mums whom I barely knew, and told them that I was looking for a job. Turns out, one of them has a friend who volunteers at an organization where I’m applying to work, and another used to work at a different organization where I’d also love an “in.” Both women offered to help me out, and set the connections in motion immediately.
I network all the time – whether it’s with the odd mix of friends and strangers who populate my Twitter, Linked In and Facebook accounts – or in the old-fashioned way, through coffee mornings and the like. I use my networks for things as diverse as researching stories, locating family-friendly hotels in Vienna, helping friends find babysitters or determining the best place to buy a duvet cover in London.
Here are five facts about networking, old-school and new:
1. Networking is increasingly about ideas, not people. I’d love to claim credit for this pithy kernel of wisdom, but it actually comes via communications consultant extraordinaire Chris Brogan. Brogan points out that in the old days, because it required your physical presence, networking depended heavily on “genetics, geography and our job.” In a Web 2.0 world, however, we can network with anyone on the planet. As a result, he argues, our new networks are based “more about thinking, mindsets…passions, and future visions. Our past is there, but it’s not often the focal point. Rather, it’s our ideas and our ideals that drive things forward.” As I go about job hunting in an Online world – locating cool websites like Escape The City which seeks to match job seekers with employers based as much on their world view as on their skill sets – I see just how very right he is.
2. Social networking is highest among boomers. We tend to think of things like Facebook and Twitter as the province of the young. While it’s true that younger demographics continue to be the heaviest users of social networks, older users are joining such services at a much more rapid rate. According to a survey taken by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in 2010, social networking has almost doubled among those over 50 — growing from 22 percent to 42 percent over the previous year. While boomers and seniors are usually introduced to social networking by their children, they tend to stay for more traditional “networking” reasons: to start a second career, to re-connect with old friends as they approach retirement and/or to consult with their cohort over health-related matters.
3. Women trust Online women’s networks more than other sites. Women are by far the biggest users of social media. But new research also finds that women are more likely to trust and value information found in Online women’s communities than other social networks or websites. In a survey of over 2,000 adult women, respondents said they valued time spent in women’s communities three times more than social networks (45% vs. 15%) and almost twice as much as portals like Yahoo and AOL. They are also more trusting of product information or advice when it comes from other women Online, according to the research. Having spent quite a bit of time hanging out in places like the Brit Mums Blog, I can readily see why.
4. But women don’t network as successfully as men at work. According to a recent study by an anthropologist at the University of Indiana, women do just as much networking as men do in the work place and are connected to just as many people, but their style of networking does not yield the same results. Specifically, they do not end up connected to as many people higher up in the organization and even when they do make those connections, the higher ups tend to favor men. Hmmmm. Perhaps this explains that pervasive glass ceiling we keep hearing about?
5. Human relationships still matter. As my coffee morning example above demonstrates, you can be as socially networked as you like, but at the end of the day, human relationships still matter. My favorite example of this comes from blogger and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha, who has a great story about serendipity and randomness on the internet, all grounded in real life.
Image: network by hikingartist via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.