I’ve become slightly obsessed with the distinction between social networks and social media. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but it strikes me that social media is what organisations tend to do, whilst the advantage of all this wonderful technology to us as individuals lies in social networks. Networking is what us humans do. Well, some of us anyway.
The thing is that I find all of the time that people I meet often don’t understand how or why they should be networking. For many, the very term is still pejorative, conjuring up images of oleaginous salesmen in shiny suits. If you don’t understand why you might want to network, you won’t understand how you might put some order and structure into your networking activity – let alone the value of social networking technology.
Giving social networks to people who don’t know why they should network is like giving Microsoft Project to people who know nothing about project management. Oh, that happens too…
I was chatting with a former colleague yesterday, a very bright graduate scheme person who was wondering how she could “do” LinkedIn. We talked a bit about the underlying theme of building a network. As someone fairly new into her career, none of this seemed immediately obvious. The assumptions that are made about GenY-ers and Millennials entering the job market with some sort of social networking innate ability are very dangerous. At the other end of the scale, I worked with a group of senior interim managers at the end of 2014 and one asked, with concern, about how he might overcome a distinct feeling of exposure in trying to change his habits of working in a closed way for all of his career.
Vulnerability is a common theme. And without a strong compelling “why?”, it’s very difficult to get people to consider changing their behaviours with such obstacles in the way. So what is the “why?”. Well, that’s personal. But it strikes me that creating and fostering and building your network is a crucial thing to do in a world where uncertainty about what tomorrow might hold is so common.
In previous generations, where a job for life was a reality, insularity was more of an option. But in modern organisations (and even more so outside of them) tomorrow can find that your working life has been turned upside down. In an environment where such change becomes common (for example, in my 2 years at Microsoft I had three managers and went through two organisational restructures), the affiliations that we build up across organisations with colleagues, clients, suppliers and others become far more important that the vertical loyalty of old to the boss and the organisation.
In this world, our network can become our safety net, our support, our route to market, our recruitment channel, our guru… Only when you’ve started to think about some of those factors can you start to understand how social networks can work for you.