What's in Your Network?

by Denise Berger

 

Who watched the Desperate Housewives recent episode in which Tom Scavo returns from a marketing job interview... dejected? When asked the reason, he explains that he was competing against one-hundred 30-year olds who "Twitter," and that he's over the hill… because he doesn't even know what "Twitter" is! Everywhere you look these days, networking - and having a network - is the flavor du jour, especially in any kind of online form. Twitter me, post it on Facebook, get LinkedIn, see it on My Space, join an online community, be a virtual member of an organization, follow this, subscribe to that, and, above all else, connect me! Creating the perfect social spider web is simply enough to cause retreat and turn someone into a hermit! Why? Because it is a little complicated to figure out what's important and because putting yourself out there on the vast, wide-open internet - the new wild west - is risky. Why is it necessary to get out there and ride through it, explore it and reap its benefits?

 

Social networks and blogs are more popular than emails now. And, according to Mark Zuckerberg, if Facebook were a country, it would be the 8th most populated in the world, placing it ahead of Japan. Like it or not, online networking is part of the fabric of our culture and global interactions. Recently, in a "Making Your Connections Count" presentation, I realized that the act of networking has existed since the beginning of humantime. We are, after all, social creatures by nature and certainly our species has nurtured this competency to the next level. Online networking is just the latest development, the next stage in our evolution. So, the question is: what drives our need to "socialize"?

 

Ironically, although women have the higher propensity for socializing than men (think of the role of women as gatherers in early civilization), we do not do as well fostering goal-oriented or brain-working (strategic networking). We excel at unconscious networking, the most basic style. We enjoy referring people to each other and prefer to give, not take – and not ask. According to a recent survey conducted by the European Professional Women's Network, women socialize primarily for personal reasons, making professional development, career pathing, and business secondary. A typical woman has 95 contacts on paper, 398 electronically and 170 online. The most startling fact comes from Wired magazine: women over 55 years old are the fastest growing social online networking group making women between the ages of 45-65 the largest demographic. Despite all of this, we tend to be reactive rather than proactive.