There are three types of relationships:

  • Personal – These are your friends (golf buddies, neighbors, parents at kid’s school, etc.); they like your warts and all and you choose them, making them rather safe.
  • Functional – These are people you work with to perform your job or realm of responsibilities. You build relationships with them, often because you have to (colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc.). You don’t necessarily choose all of them, but because of the context of your relationship, likewise they feel fairly safe.

Many use the current generation of social networking technologies such as LinkedIn®, Spoke®, and Plaxo® to connect with this audience. Our relationship with these people online is simply an extension of our interactions with them off-line.

The third type of relationship is your strategic relationships – those which most people often miss. These are the people who can elevate your thinking, provide new perspective, and create a fundamentally greater level of access to new markets, new opportunities, and new possibilities of greater perceived reach.

Here are ten valuable uses of current and prospective social networking sites for any leader to identify, build, nurture and leverage their strategic – often their most valuable relationships:

  1. Strategic Perspective – The next generation of social networking will be all about mass collaboration. As such, you must possess the ability to see beyond your functional, geographic or project-based silos. Look beyond the current handshakes and tactical introductions on a number of social networking sites. Strategic awareness, quality analysis of your portfolio of relationships, and the ability to connect critical relationships in real time to action plans will be essential.
  2. Return on Impact – Unless your social networking is already driving quantifiable value for internal and external clients, you will continue to struggle with the frustration of, “I am on LinkedIn – now what?” Only by serving the current and anticipated needs of your clients; by leveraging social networks to shape the perceived value proposition that you or your team brings; and arming each and every interaction with high value and high impact, will you proactively drive awareness and participation in social networks at work. This highly decentralized knowledge will also begin to blur the lines between producers and consumers – that which we refer to as Adaptive Innovation™.
  3. Market Insights – Social networks can provide unique perspectives on the competitive landscape, alternative sources of suppliers, and the often-surprising and confusing regulatory environment. Leverage a highly diverse social network to bring context to your business opportunities in each market at very specific points in time. Leverage social networks to identify and analyze trends to not only anticipate, but to capitalize on key drivers of market dynamics.
  4. The “So What” Effect – Social networks at work have a potential to turn traditional science projects in R&D into money making market value. Prioritize not one-off ideas, but repeatable, predictable opportunities gathered with insights from customers, suppliers, and employees themselves. Transform those insights into new ways to increase commercial output, profits and revenues.
  5. Business Results Through Transformation – The current social networking environment generates a lot of dialogue. Unfortunately, much of that dialogue is useless. Focus that interaction at work on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of business results. Beyond doing things better (incrementalism), leverage social networks to do things differently (innovation). Aim to continue to raise the bar on your existing Relationship Bank™ and leverage insights from your social network to transform your department versus to simply transact.
  6. Change Management – Social Networking 2.0 has the potential to transform the manner in which organizations get things done. More importantly, it has the opportunity to align different profiles of many current employees with new and often challenging corporate direction. Only by energizing the entire social network to add value to this new direction will you be able to modify and evolve status quo. Think about S.W.A.T. teams, for example, and the highly decentralized domino effect of small groups which are more nimble and adept at creating small but very quantifiable success.
  7. Return on Influence – Social networking fundamentally provides the toolset to engage and influence others, often without authority. By helping when asked and supporting others when required, you proactively create and foster productive partnerships, often across geography, function, or organizational tenure. Expand that collaboration beyond the corporate walls and you are likely to accelerate a quantifiable return on influence.
  8. People Power – Social networks really allow your people to engage other like-minded individuals, and enhance the long-term capability of others in the organization. Beyond competency maps, employee surveys, and individual feedback and guidance, social networking can provide much-needed candor in the personal and professional development of key individuals within any organization and as such, the organization’s capabilities at large.
  9. The Person Versus the Position – In any leadership role, it s critical to integrate, align and build the right resources and focus them on an immediate impact in the organization. Only by providing a sense of purpose and a succinct desired outcome, coupled with empowering those with the responsibility to sustain the necessary authority, will you be able to develop and consistently retain a high performing social network at work.
  10. The Learning Organization – Many social networking applications such as Twitter and Second Life can deliver real-time collaboration and informal learning, often physically not possible in the real world. I recently attended a Second Life training session where a systems engineer in Hong Kong, sliced a massively complex technology in “half” to show us an inside view!

The social networks of today are about connecting and then creating access. But now what? There are over 27 million users on LinkedIn, but less than 10% of the users I meet are leveraging this platform in any kind of productive manner. I think Social Networking 2.0 – the next generation of social networking – will be about mass collaboration, which will drive the way we think about engaging each other.

How are you utilizing social networking at work?

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