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While I would not claim to be a professional networker, I do have a pretty strong opinion about what works, and wondering if there is any real research on the best approach to networking.

My current belief is that effective networking is based on:

  • Focusing on breadth, not depth; meaning having more connections is better than having a few very depth relationships. To be clear, I'm not saying depth in relationships is not important, just that when it comes to executing a networking strategy that focusing on breadth over depth is more productive.
  • Always establish a connection based on the other parties interests, motivations, preferences, activities, etc. The only exception to this would be if you were hosting an event, or if you were approached by them; but really in both of those cases it's still them expressing their needs.
  • Make their current needs result in them needing to reply to you.
  • Once a relationship is established, then realign the parties interests, motivations, preferences, activities, etc as needed using the response benchmarks measured before the attempt to realign the nature of the relationship.

Is there any research that would validate, or dispute, the above approach to professional networking?


UPDATES:

  • Re: "What type of research?" (Chad): Looking for research from researchers like the MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory that focus on sociometric analysis.

  • Re: What constitutes a connection? (JB King): A "breadth strategy" is a networking strategy that results in connections that enable meaningful responses to requests using the most minimal effort required, but still allows the total number of connections to grow. Types of connections included: to (one-to-one/many), with (many-to-one/many), through (request-is-passed-on-to-one/many).

  • Re: "How to Win Friends & Influence People" (normalocity): Agree, in fact the wiki-summary for it appears to be well done; though I've read the book before, it would be worth rereading. That said, the objective of the question is not find subjective opinion on the subject no matter how popular/sound it may seem, but to find research that validates, or disputes, the approach; in fact, Carnegie's version to be honest sounds a little more friendly than mine, though I might add it does not focus on the importance breadth over depth, which to me is key to the question. Also, it does not use the benchmarks during the "onboarding phase" to evaluate the effect of the attempt to realign the nature of the relationship if needed.

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    What constitutes a connection though? If I know your name, is that a connection or is there a minimum depth in terms of knowing your strengths, interests, etc.? – JB King Apr 29 '12 at 18:57
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    Could someone who knows only my name be a connection? Similarly, could someone with extensive knowledge of me opt to not be a connection? At any point in time there may be thousands of people who know of me, but what makes them connections or not is what I'm not sure I really get to to try to even start to find the research within this area. – JB King Apr 29 '12 at 20:40
  • As regards to research, unless you define the terms breadth and depth in a meaningful way, and instead of presupposition of hypothesis as the way you stated, should we rather have an open to answer question, i don't think you can have any research on this topic. You have not shown any research or any basis of your own assumptions and conclusions here. Even if someone has done research on this subject he wouldn't be able to answer your question! – Dipan Mehta May 4 '12 at 15:26
  • @Dipan Mehta: Again, your comment(s) should be below the question, not the comments for this answer; update: Dipan Mehta moved comment below question, and delete comment below an answer. Also, comments are not for discussion, let us continue this discussion in chat. – blunders May 4 '12 at 15:42
  • There's lots of fantastic research by anthropologists - entrepreneurship is a popular field of study. Someone in the field might suggest some published work... – Jeremy Parsons Nov 3 '14 at 19:51
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+25

I read an interesting article on this very subject in the Harvard Business Review called A Smarter Way to Network. Unfortunately, it is behind a pay-wall so I won't be offended if you don't check it out.

The article asserts that your core network should consist of around 8-15 people who will challenge you in various aspects of your life (professionally, politically, personally, etc...) and that over-networking or building an unstable network (a network full of people who inject negativity into your life etc.) are detrimental to your career as it progresses.

Now, that's not to say that you can't build a larger network outside of your core, but you do need to be careful with how much time you spend cultivating those relationships, especially if you aren't friends with those people.

I think just focusing on the number of people in your network (breadth first) is much like a new company focusing on getting thousands of users before figuring out how to make money off of them. It just doesn't scale.

Invest your time on meaningful connections that are mutually beneficial and send LinkedIn connection invitations to the rest of them.

Depth vs Breadth. If you find yourself trying to mold or change your personality based on someone else's motivations/interests you are probably doing it wrong. I'd rather have two people I can really trust and that help me grow than 1000 people I don't have time to juggle and wouldn't give me the time of day if it caused them too much hassle.

My $0.02

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    +1 @Robert Greiner: Here's a PDF of the Harvard Business Review articel, "A Smarter Way to Network; haven't had the chance to read it, or for that matter your answer, but it's the full article, and figured it might be of use to others too. I'll reply within the next day, thanks for taking the time to post an answer! – blunders May 3 '12 at 20:59
  • +1. Like i have seen from your other answers, your insight is quite impressive! – Dipan Mehta May 4 '12 at 14:51
  • @Robert Greiner: I've taken the time to review your answer and the HBR article, and unless I'm missing something, neither your answer, or the HBR article contain any research on the topic, which is required of an answer. Please clearly state why you believe your answer meets the stated requirements of the question, thanks! – blunders May 4 '12 at 15:46
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    As this is the only response, and community users have upvoted it more than twice, half the bounty will be automatically awarded after a 7 day grace period. I am hesitant to award the entire bounty outright because the OP's comments lead me to believe this answer is not, in fact, the type of answer desired. I would love to see some edits to the answer to bring it in line! – jcmeloni May 8 '12 at 20:00

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