It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it!
Recently, I ran a workshop about strategic networking for entrepreneurs and asked the participants why they think networking (i.e. making and maintaining relationships) is important to them. I got answers from “grow my number of contacts”, over “increase my visibility”, to “to sell them my products”.
The first two reasons see a large network (in terms of knowing many people or being known by many people) as worth achieving by itself - but in the following I want to make the point that growing your network constantly is completely worthless. It's what you make out of the relationships you have, or knowing which new relationships will be valuable to you.
So the last reason, "sell them my products", is - although very ego-centric - actually a valid reason to network, because it comes the closest to why humans naturally build (social) networks at all – exchange.
Everyone of us has a certain (constantly changing) set of information, resources, skills, experiences, etc. , and therefore has got something, which is potentially matches what other people want. As soon as there is a certain unsatisfied demand from one person, which another person can satisfy by supplying any of these “goods”, these individuals can start an exchange – of course just, if they know each other and know about each other’s “wants and haves”.
This starts from being fed as a child from your parents over sharing knowledge to cram for exams to begging someone to design you a website - or doing deals for your business.
But in whichever situation, networks are just serve as the infrastructure on which exchange can happen – and satisfying specific needs through exchange should always be the purpose. Therefore before you go networking, you should be very clear about your needs and what kind of benefits you want to get out of a certain relationship or networking event.
Why build infrastructure if you don’t know what to use it for? Lots of entrepreneurs fail because they have fun working on something, but at the end it does not make enough money - “cool does not bring bacon home”. And with every successful tool mankind invented, it did not only matter to just have it – how it was used (which, if ignored, can lead to blindfold conclusions and decisions).
So to network strategically, I think it is crucial to understand what needs you have and what you can get from the people in your network – or what kind of people you need to know to satisfy your needs. And on the other side of the coin, you have to be very clear what you can give to people in order to sustain your relationships with them.