Are you getting the most from networking? No, then read on...
by GUEST EDITOR Emma Rodgers
So, here’s the thing. When I first started working in pr & communications, I got to hating everything about ‘networking’*.
It felt false, contrived and quite often disingenuous. Probably this was because I worked in quite a cut throat yet ‘pr fluff’ environment. It was private sector in the late nineties and early noughties. Even the phrase sent shivers down my spine.
I also felt it was all about ‘who you knew and not what you knew’ – something that didn’t sit well with me and which was opposed to my work ethic, even then in my early 20s.
Working in the public sector 16 years later, my thinking is now the complete opposite and I think networking and building relationships is one of the best tools a 21st Century communicator has in their comms toolkit.
You can tap into learning
Communicating public services at a time when we’re required to make huge savings, redesign what we do and have a completely different relationship with residents is challenging. As communicators we need to be evolving constantly so we’re part of the solution.
This means we need to be learning all the time. Building relationships, whether that’s on-line, via community networks or through professional forums is a great way to do this.
It saves time and money
In the public sector, people are happy to share ideas & feedback & even practical resources where they can. The last organisation I worked for saved £4,000 because through relationships I had, we managed to get free advice that gave us a solution to a problem that up until then was going to cost cold, hard cash.
Working in this way also saves time and resources. You don’t have to start from scratch and you can get additional benefits by linking together to best effect. Other examples of this is whereby through people I know, we’ve managed to secure training for free or share insight that would otherwise have cost time and people to deliver.
It prompts innovation & stretches you
Ultimately though it prompts ideas, innovation and creativity and stretches your thinking. Mixing with people who have different ideas or different ways of working brings the best from you. It’s made me think in ways I know I wouldn’t have if I had kept working in my inward looking way.
It makes you more employable and is fun
Networking has definitely made me more employable – I cannot tell you how many people approach me about jobs now compared to two/three years ago and I would say networking has been the main difference between then and now. It’s also meant I’ve been able to be part of some great things like Commscamp14 with the brilliant Dan Slee, Darren Caveney and Ann Kempster.
So you’re convinced about the value of networking. Here’s my tips on how.
It’s a two-way street
Building relationships has to be genuine and it’s a two-way street. Don’t go into something thinking about what you can get from it. Instead start from the view of what you could share from it. People will soon tire if all you do is take, take, take….
Use the social in social media
It goes without saying that social media is perfect for building relationships. If I had a £1 for every time I heard someone say that they know someone from twitter even if they’ve never met them. Same for linkedIn. You can access new ideas and connect with people who you find interesting or who you know you could work with in a mutually beneficial way. So if you’re not already proactively on social media in some way in your own right, make this your first step.
Chuck yourself in
Public sector peeps are in my experience always happy to share connections. And it’s quite normal for you to approach someone you admire and connect with them. Start small – in fact don’t even think about it – just crack on and chuck yourself in.
Make it part of who you are
Don’t try too hard or you’re in danger of being too contrived. Go with networks that interest you or connect with people you have something in common with. It could be emergency planning is your thing. There will be a group of people who feel the same. Do a little research and see what you find. By making it part of who you are, it’s more likely to not feel like a chore and that way you’ll get the most from every opportunity.
Tap into communication networks and events
There is a huge amount on offer. LG Communications is just £250 for a whole organisation to join – this includes access to six seminars a year for free. I know I’m biased but I still think this is amazing value for money. There are also regional groups in your area like CIPR or CIM that you can check out. Other options include more informal learning groups like Brewcamp in Birmingham or Rocketcamp in Hereford.
Don’t let it be the first thing to go
In the current space we’re operating in, it’s easy to say that we can’t get out of the office. I take you back to the fact that ultimately building relationships in this way is likely to save your organisation time and money. And it doesn’t have to cost financially to do it. There are creative & free ways to meet people and make connections.
Find the time
We can only stay on top of our game as communicators and help to solve the really tough issues if we invest time in what we do. In my view, you can only build professional relationships if you put some time in. It’s like anything, the more you put in, the more you get out.
Share the love
I loathe it when people use networking as a power thing. They see it as giving themselves more power and as a result don’t want to share their connections with others. That’s not cool and it’s not welcomed. So if you do start to build relationships, then please do ‘share the love’
Get by with a little help from your friends
I’ve already said why I think it’s a ‘must do’ above. I only really started to do it myself two years ago and I didn’t even realise I was doing it at the time. Some kind encouragement, a few introductions, a little confidence building and I was off. It was organic and genuine and I enjoyed it. It keeps work and life interesting and if I’m honest now very much spills over into my personal life. And I wouldn’t go back for love nor money. If you start from the right place, you will find it comes naturally.
Ultimately though my life has been massively enriched by getting to meet the interesting, motivated and creative people that I have. And from a work point of view, it’s a win-win. So don’t treat networking as a dirty word, embrace it for what it is and get by with a little help from your friends.
Emma Rodgers Emma Rodgers is Strategic Manager [Communications and Marketing], Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
*Official dictionary klaxon – Networking is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’.
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