At this time of year, the thoughts of many gardeners—especially those who grow vegetables—turn to seed catalogues, and the all-important selection of what to grow next year. This is also a time for tidying up the garden ready for winter, clearing out the last few annual weeds, and feeding the beds ready for next year.
These three areas—seeding, feeding and weeding—are also important actions for social media users, and indeed for keeping your broader network up to date.
A network is a group of people who are connected in some way. In professional and working contexts, your network is the people you know through work, or with whom you have made contact because you share similar work interests and/or experiences. Networking, therefore, is the process of building and maintaining your professional network by making contacts and building relationships in your own field and beyond.
Building and maintaining a network can and should be an active process. You need to seed, feed and weed your network periodically for best results.
Seeding your network
The concept of seeding your network describes the action of deliberately building the network you want. Of course you will meet people naturally in the course of your work. However, social media now means that you can also build a network beyond your ‘natural’ contacts. Your network can transcend both geography and your field of work. You can make contact with people with new and different ideas, and broaden your horizons as well as your network.
Building a network, especially a social media network, needs thought. You want your newsfeed to bring you new and different ideas, not act as an echo chamber for your own views. By all means connect with other people with similar views to you—those people, after all, are helpful in reinforcing your expertise. However, also take time to seek out people with alternative viewpoints and opinions, and from different industries. Challenge yourself.
Remember, too, that building a network takes time. Just as gardeners sow new seed each year, you may need to reseed your network every year or so, to maintain its diversity.
Feeding your network
Feeding your network describes the action of putting in time to maintain relationships within your network. Relationships do not grow by themselves. They need time and effort. By the time most of us have been working for five to ten years, we are likely to have a business network of several hundred people. You clearly cannot nurture your relationship with every one of those people.
It is therefore important to prioritise the relationships that most matter within your network—and recognise that the importance of individual relationships will change over time.
There are several important aspects to this. You need to nurture relationships with people who will help you to do your job effectively. This might be thought leaders within your industry or beyond, colleagues in your company, or peers in other companies with whom you discuss ideas or issues. You also need to nurture relationships with people who help you to grow personally and professionally, whether by supporting you or challenging you.
Feeding your network is an ongoing job. Every interaction you have with someone has an effect. However, it also needs to be deliberate, with a focus on what you want from your network—or you will find that you are only building relationships with those whom you work with every day.
Weeding your network
Finally, it is important to review your network periodically. You need to make sure that it still works for you. Research shows that over time, our networks tend to get less diverse. We may get to know more people, but our interests narrow, and then social media feeds start to turn into an echo chamber. Keeping your network diverse means removing (or at least de-prioritising) people who are less relevant, and re-seeding your network with new blood.
Especially on social media, it is perfectly reasonable to stop following people who no longer share content that you find interesting or relevant. Interests and jobs change over time, and your network and newsfeed need to be updated too.
Review, refresh and restart
Gardening is a cycle of growth, decay and restarting—but also trying new things. Building and maintaining a network is very similar. Take time periodically to review and refresh your network, and see how it helps to reopen your views and opinions.