Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the concept of networking was promoted to help businesspeople to build their social capital. In the US, workplace equity advocates encouraged business networking by members of marginalized groups (e.g., women, African-Americans, etc.) to identify and address the challenges barring them from professional success. Mainstream business literature subsequently adopted the terms and concepts, promoting them as pathways to success for all career climbers. Since the closing decades of the twentieth century, "networking" has become an accepted term and concept in American society. In the 2000s, "networking" has expanded beyond its roots as a business practice to the point that parents meeting to share child-rearing tips to scientists meeting research colleagues are described as engaging in "networking".
A business network is a type of business social network which is developed to help businesspeople connect with other managers and entrepreneurs to further each other's business interests by forming mutually beneficial business relationships. There are several prominent business networking organizations that create models of business networking activity that, when followed, allow the business person to build new business relationships and generate business opportunities at the same time. A professional network service is an implementation of information technology in support of business networking. Chambers of Commerce and other business-oriented groups may also organize networking activities.
Many business people contend business networking is a more cost-effective method of generating new business than advertising or public relations efforts. This is because business networking is a low-cost activity that involves more personal commitment than company money. Country-specific examples of informal networking are guanxi in China, blat in Russia, good ol' boy network in America, and old boy network in the UK.
In the case of a formal business network, its members may agree to meet weekly or monthly or less frequently, with the purpose of sharing information, exchanging business leads and making referrals to fellow members. To complement this business activity, members often meet outside this circle, on their own time, and build their own one-to-one business relationship with fellow members.
Business networking can be conducted in a local business community, at a regional level (which typically happens less often because of the travel involved) or even at a national level or international level, in the form of conferences and other fora. In the 2000s, using the Internet and teleconferencing services, it is possible for businesspeople from a similar industry or sector to connect even if they live in different regions or countries. Business networking websites have grown in the 2000s. Some Internet businesses find or set up business "leads" to sell to bigger corporations and businesses looking for new clients.
Before online business networking, there existed face-to-face networking for business. This was achieved through a number of techniques such as trade show marketing and loyalty programs. Though these techniques have been proven to still be an effective source of income, many companies now focus more on online marketing due to the ability to track every detail of a campaign and justify the expenditure involved in setting up one of these campaigns. "Schmoozing" or "rubbing elbows" are expressions used among professional business professionals for introducing and meeting one another in a business context, and establishing business rapport.
Networking can be an effective way for job-seekers to gain a competitive edge over others in the job-market. The skilled networker cultivates personal relationships with prospective employers and selection panelists, in the hope that these personal affections will influence future hiring decisions. This form of networking has raised ethical concerns. The objection is that it constitutes an attempt to corrupt formal selection processes. The networker is accused of seeking non-meritocratic advantage over other candidates; advantage that is based on personal fondness rather than on any objective appraisal of which candidate is most qualified for the position.
Many businesses use networking as a key factor in their marketing plan. It helps to develop a strong feeling of trust between those involved and play a big part in raising the profile of a company. suppliers and businesses can be seen as networked businesses, and will tend to source the business and their suppliers through their existing relationships and those of the companies they work closely with. Networked businesses tend to be open, random, and supportive, whereas those relying on hierarchical, traditional managed approaches are closed, selective, and controlling. These phrases were first used by Thomas Power, businessman and chairman of Ecademy, an online business network, in 2009.
- Hubert Österle, Elgar Fleisch, Rainer Alt (2001), Business networking: shaping collaboration between enterprises (2, illustrated ed.), Springer, ISBN 978-3-540-41351-6
- Laird, Pamela Walker (2006). Pull: Networking and Success since Benjamin Franklin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674025530.
- Peter Symonds Why Offline Marketing Still Works in a Digital World, The Display Hub by Display Wizard, 28 July 2014
- Ned Dobos, "Just What are you Trying to Pull? http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/just-what-are-you-trying-to-pull-20130928-2ul2m.html
- Ned Dobos, "Networking, Corruption, and Subversion", Journal of Business Ethics 2015, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-015-2853-4
- Thomas Power Closed Selective Controlling meets Open Random Supportive, Sunzu The Art Of Business, 30 June 2009