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Andy Lopata: The Move from Informal Networking to Strategic Networking

I would argue that our use of networking is still very inefficient and lacks focus. As more businesses recognise its importance, we should see a wider acceptance of its role in business and planning for its use, says Andy Lopata, one of the most important business networking strategists, labelled "Mr. Network" by The Sun.

andy_lopataWhat's the difference of doing networking in the 21 st century, compared to the previous periods of time? What has changed?

I think there are two main changes, both of which are in their very early stages. 

The first, and most obvious, is the growth of social networks. It means that we are far more able to keep in touch with a wider network of people, help them understand more about what we do and support them in their challenges. Social networks have also led to a smaller global community, where it is much more simple to both initiate and develop connections across the World.

People still have a lot to learn about how to use social networks effectively for business. Many people are simply joining in response to an invitation and then uploading a basic profile. They are not moving much beyond that stage. As businesses understand the value of such networks I think they could lift networking to a whole new level.

The second area of change is the move from networking as an informal process which some people engage in more enthusiastically than others to a recognised strategic tool taken seriously by senior management. I would argue that our use of networking is still very inefficient and lacks focus. As more businesses recognise its importance, we should see a wider acceptance of its role in business and planning for its use.

 

Online networking is becoming more and more visible. How should we select the persons with whom we connect online?

First of all, understand why you are using each network. Is it to raise your profile and build your network? If so, you'd want to make new connections. Or is it to work more effectively and share more with trusted contacts? In that case, you'd naturally be more focused on existing relationships.

The oft-repeated advice of working with people you 'know, like and trust' applies here. If you are looking to connect with new people, read their profiles and see whether you have mutual friends or interests in common. Above all, when you connect with someone new engage with them and have a conversation. Don't just click a link to connect and do nothing afterwards.


What kind of different networking strategies should we us on Facebook, Twitter and LikedIn?

Every different network, whether online or face to face meetings, can add different value to our business. Many people take a blanket approach to social networks, sharing the same information across all different sites and connecting with the same people. I don't understand the point of that. What do you achieve by duplicating connections and content?

Instead, understand how each network can best help your business and focus your activity within each network appropriately. Generally speaking we network for three key reasons. We either want to become better known, better equipped or better connected. Understanding that, look at each network and ask how it helps you with each of the three and which reasons are most important to you.

For example, I use Twitter predominantly to become better known. So I share information that I hope others will, in turn, repeat to their networks. By doing so they draw more attention to me and my expertise, raising my profile. I use LinkedIn to become better connected, hence being more selective about the connections I make on the site.

Each of the networks you mention can be used in different ways, so it's up to each individual business to decide which is the most appropriate to meet their goals.

 

Word of mouth is perceived in public relations as a tool that is difficult to control. How do you think networking should and can be used in order to create positive word of mouth?

Most businesses accept that the most effective form of new lead generation is recommendation or referrals. In other words, word of mouth. You can't, and shouldn't seek to, control word of mouth. What you can do is be as proactive as possible in encouraging positive word of mouth, while meeting negative word of mouth head on.

You can use networking events and online networks to develop a network of 'Champions', people who will talk to others and advocate your products or services. Left on their own people are typically more likely to share bad news than good, so you have to focus your efforts on gaining people's trust and support and encourage them to want to talk about you positively.

Many businesses are nervous about using social networks because people may say something bad about them there. However, if people have something bad to say about you and they are on a social network, I believe they will do so anyway. Your presence will simply allow you to engage with them about their complaints and hopefully turn their negative experience into a positive one. 

It's very important to communicate and to create a network, but it is essential to build up strong trusty relationships. How can we build a trusty relationship by using networking?

Don't connect with too many people! There is a belief that the more people you connect with, the more effective your networking. I don't subscribe to that theory!

You need to keep the number of connections at a level that enables you to build deeper relationships with them. Seek to interact with people with whom you find an easy rapport, have interests in common or whose businesses are similar, or related, to yours. Don't just rely on online interaction or fleeting conversations at networking events. Arrange to meet them in small groups or one-to-one and get to know each other better.

When you meet people initially don't necessarily focus on what they do but find out more about them. If you can relate on a personal level, the business relationship follows naturally. We want to help and support people we like.


Andy Lopata is one of the most important network strategists, labelled "Mr. Network" by The Sun. He is the co-author of two books on networking and a a featured columnist in the US magazine ‘The National Networker’.  Previously, Andy was Managing Director of UK network Business Referral Exchange. Andy has since worked with companies from one-man bands to organisations such as NatWest Bank, Merrill Lynch and Mastercard to help them realise the full potential from their networking.


Interview by Rebeca Pop, Forum for International Communications
Copyright PR Romania

 

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