One quick press of a button can bring a new person into your network, or remove one permanently. Make a quick scan of update feeds and you can feel up-to-date on what everyone around you is up to. Gone are the days when you had to set aside several hours a week to call connections to ask how their vacation was or how their family was doing. All the pictures are right there for you to peruse and comment on.
Significant benefits have come from these tools. Our networks and, therefore, our reach, seem larger than ever. I can see who my network has connections with and even how I relate to complete strangers in other people's networks. I can easily spot who I am three degrees of separation away from. In the olden days (meaning the early 2000s), that just wasn't possible.
If business success is truly based on who you know, these tools should be making each of us networking experts. However, in my experience, networking success has never been based on who you know but, rather, who knows you.
Combining my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, I have about 700 connections. Among those 700 people who I have met, I am sure there are some who would not return an e-mail or phone call from me simply because they don't truly know me.
A connection who isn't interested in connecting beyond hitting the "accept as friend" button is not adding any business value to a network. As professionals though, it is important to know who is in your network and who you can turn to for advice.
In short, it is necessary to identify who knows you.
I have done this by creating four categories and identifying which category to place each member of my network into. It is a time-consuming exercise, but it offers lots of value. It gives you the chance to get to know your network again and provides a great reminder of who is in it that you may have forgotten about.
Category 1: Personal contacts
In this category are my family and friends who I see and contact often on a personal level. They are the people who will immediately answer the phone when they see my name on call display.
Category 2: Direct business partners
This category includes people with whom I have done business within the past couple of years. They will know who I am if I call or send an e-mail. These people will return e-mails and phone calls just to catch up and see what I've been up to.
Category 3: Business acquaintances
These are people with whom I've worked or met at business events, but haven't been in contact with for some time. They may not remember where or how we met. If I contact them, there is a chance they won't know me.
Category 4: Other acquaintances
This group is made up of old high school or university friends with whom I have reconnected via social networking but never contact.
The people who know and can best help you will be in the first two categories. They will be the most valuable part of your network. Don't be afraid to reach out to them. They know and like you and will look forward to your call.
If you want to expand your business network, there are no better places to start than the third and fourth categories. Make an effort to get reacquainted with the people in these categories.
With all the social networking tools available, that's never been easier. But just like the days before Facebook, if you want to build true rapport, you will have to take the connection offline.
Brian Gordon is a principal with Technology Gateway Canada , a consulting firm that helps technology companies strengthen their business plans, find funding and grow their business during challenging economic times.