Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Student and graduate networking in the connected age

The following is the accompanying narrative for my keynote presentation at the 2011 EWS Kongress, at the Messe Dresden. The Twitter hash tag for the Kongress is #EWSKongress. The presentation that is based upon this narrative can be found on Slideshare here.

Networking can mean the connection of one computer to another for the exchange of data, and it can mean the connection of one person to another for the exchange of information. In both instances each computer or person is referred to as a node. A node is a connection point, where lines or pathways intersect, in the case of computers this happens physically, and in the case of people this happens metaphorically. This paper is designed to give students and graduates information about people networking methods and techniques, and highlight best practice to improve the effectiveness of their networking capabilities in order to maximise their chances of personal success during and beyond their studies, through the establishment of supportive and meaningful networks.

There are several sub-terms in common usage to describe people networking including: social networking; business networking; academic networking; research networking; political networking and professional networking. All of these terms involve connectivity and information sharing between people, and these terms are often used interchangeably, so as to avoid any confusion, from this point onwards the terms to network and networking will be used as ‘umbrella terms’ for all types of people networking, which are of relevance to students and graduates.

Expert definitions of networking vary, although they all follow a similar philosophy, and include the following:
• The action or process of making use of a network of people for the exchange of information, etc., or for professional or other advantage (Oxford English Dictionary, 2011).
• The practice of making contact and exchanging information with other people, groups or institutions (Your Dictionary, 2011).
• The process of using one contact to gain others (Travel Industry Dictionary, 2011).
• Communicate with and within a group (WordNet, 2011).

Networking may occur casually when it is unintended, or it may be planned and strategically focussed. In order for networking to take place, a minimum of two people need to be involved (there is no maximum number), and information must be traded from at least one person to another. The content of the exchanged information varies due to the nature and rationale for the contact taking place, but very often involves the exchange of contact details for further follow-up beyond the initial contact, and any action that results from the initial contact.

When considering networking it is important to formulate a strategy by asking yourself:
• Why do I want to network?
• What benefits do I want to achieve from networking?
• Who are the people that I want to be networking with?
• Where can I feasibly network with these people?
• When are the best times for networking to take place?
• How should I present myself to others?

The reasons for networking are limitless and dependent on personal circumstances. For some people making new friendships and relationships is reason enough, for others it could be to attract investors onboard for an entrepreneurial undertaking, or to seek career advancement. Whilst the rationale for networking varies, the predominant reasons are as follows:
• Social, for purposes of: meeting new people; gaining knowledge; learning new skills; and engaging with like-minded individuals in communities of practice.
• Academic, for purposes of research; sharing practice; learning new skills; and improving chances of success.
• Business, for purposes of: seeking entrepreneurial opportunities; attracting investments; improving ways of working; researching competitors; establishing relationships with clients and customers; learning new skills; and improving chances of success.
• Career, for purposes of: seeking out work placements and internships; finding job opportunities; learning new skills; improving prospects of promotion; and achieving greater rewards and job satisfaction.

Whatever the rationale for networking, it’s key purpose is to lead to improvements in personal circumstances for those parties who are engaged in it. Networking generally leads to development, and those who are more active networkers are more likely to succeed in their endeavours, by maximising their network of contacts, which in turn can lead to greater support.

For both students and graduates, networking provides an opportunity for you to sell yourselves, particularly your skills, this is especially relevant when you are dealing with potential future employers or professional contacts. In terms of skills, consider those skills, which are attractive to employers, which you should have developed during your course of study. According to Prospects (2011) general headings for skills that are desirable to them include: self reliance skills; people skills; general employment skills; and specialist skills, a breakdown of what these terms mean can be found on the Prospects website here.

As part of a networking strategy it is necessary to consider the type of person with whom you would like to network. People are generally targeted due to either their position, knowledge, assets, capabilities, circumstances, connections and / or reputation. In order to network with particular people it may be necessary to invest in your networking strategy, by joining an association, or getting membership of a particular body, which may then give access to additional individuals that previously may have been difficult to contact. Students and graduates should be networking with:
• Other students, graduates and alumni.
• Academic staff from their own institution and elsewhere.
• University staff that specialise in liaison with industry and career guidance.
• Employers and industry figures.

Networking can happen at any time and in any place, typically it takes place in the following physical and virtual settings:
• Specific networking events, such as business lunches.
• Conferences / seminars.
• Staff development sessions.
• Work placements and internships.
• Industry events such as trade shows.
• Informal ‘rubbing of shoulders’ in social locations such as the gym, coffee shops and whilst travelling on public transport.
• Online in a plethora of locations, but most notably, bulletin boards where users have a shared interest; social networking websites / web applications; and other communicative internet based applications.

Whilst there is no hard evidence to support this, anecdotally it can be said that connections made online may be weaker than those made face-to-face, due to the personal contact element of the meeting, and the higher level of trust and understanding that can be established through meeting face-to-face. None the less, online contact is often a pre-cursor to meeting in person, and the use of the internet is practically the norm, when it comes to researching the type of person with whom you would like to network.

The best time for you to network is dependant upon your personal circumstances, and the circumstances of those with whom you would like to network. If motivations for networking are financial, there may be better times in the financial year than others when finances are more readily available. If networking is for career progression beyond university, this should be undertaken whilst you are still a student, in order to make contacts, and gain competitive advantage over other students who will also be seeking such career progression. As a student, it is never too early to begin networking, those who are more likely to progress quickly into their careers beyond their studies, will begin networking with industry practitioners early, and will use such contacts to help with the growth of their industrial knowledge and skills, and in making further contacts, thus expanding their networks. Opportunities to network, including training, staff development, meetings and conferences should be taken whenever possible.

The presentation of yourself to others when networking, is largely circumstantial as to the type of networking that you are undertaking, with whom you are networking, and where you are networking. It is essential that you consider the culture and image of those with whom you wish to network, is the image a ‘corporate’ image? Is it a ‘casual’ image? Is the image somewhere in-between, or is it a different kind of image altogether? Understanding the culture of those whom you wish to network with is important, as is adherence and respect of cultural ‘norms’ i.e. values, customs and beliefs. The answers to these questions, will need to be established through the initial research that is undertaken into those with whom to network.

As well as the above, a confident and friendly persona, along with handshakes, eye contact, conversation and questions are all a part of face-to-face networking. If you are networking face-to-face, a business card is an essential item to carry, this should present yourself, your position and most importantly your contact details for follow-up beyond your initial meeting. If you are handed a business card from somebody else, make sure that you take a few seconds to look at the details on the card, holding it carefully, before placing it in a pocket or a wallet. Offence can be taken in some cultures by nonchalant handling of business cards.

The communication revolution and the rise of online networking

We have come a very long way in a relatively short space of time when it comes to the power, speed, spread and reach of our communications. It is now possible with the touch of a few buttons to communicate with a potentially global audience. Making efficient and effective use of the communication mediums available is essential for networking to be a worthwhile endeavour. Internet usage in the home is for the majority of users, still less than 20 years old, it’s uptake was exacerbated by the spread of broadband services in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The use of the Internet as a medium for networking is as old as the Internet itself, after all the Internet was designed as a facilitator of communication. After ‘pings’ of data, and then written text emails, the world wide web allowed for the use of bulletin boards (BBs) for the purpose of networking, idea sharing, and as a virtual meeting point for those with a shared interest. BBs are also now known as Internet forums and online message boards, and despite being around for a long time, they are still extremely popular today, and exist on almost any subject, displaying largely user-generated content in what is essentially a ‘community of practice’.

By the mid 1990s mobile telephones that could access the Internet became commercially available, since then phone memory size and speed have increased, and for the majority, accessing the Internet from mobile phones has become more affordable. In the last decade, the continual development of the smartphone to take advantage of faster 3G Internet, and wi-fi networks, and for phones to include a wide range of applications (apps), which serve numerous purposes has revolutionised the way that smartphones are used. Making and receiving telephone calls is now only a minor function of smartphones for many of their users. According to Weber (2011) ‘for every desktop computer, there are 10 mobile devices. Around the world, mobile phones outnumber toothbrushes two-to-one’.

Numerous networking apps are now available for smartphones, and the adoption and proficient use of these by smartphone owners, will certainly facilitate networking with a global reach. For graduates that are likely to be mobile in their physical location beyond university, the use of networking apps could prove to be a highly effective way of keeping in contact with people in a number of locations. Many of these apps are useful for social, professional and business networking, but all of them tend to be labelled beneath the term of online social networking apps or social media.

Online social networks transcend the barriers of distance, geography, time and finance that existed for networkers before the emergence of the Internet. After bulletin boards, specific websites emerged with a more social remit, allowing people to register and become members and then ‘connect’ to other members for all manner of reasons. Social networks allow us to share our lives with a potentially global audience, everything from written messages, sounds, photographs and video can easily be uploaded and distributed with just a few clicks. Never has it been easier for networkers to expand their contact lists with those whom they would like to be connected to.

A very efficient mechanism amongst many online social networking apps is the ability to link and connect with other apps, so if a user enters an update, statement, or photograph into one app, it immediately updates the other apps, thus spreading the message to all connected networks. A practical example of this is as follows, Twitter can be synched with Facebook, so that posting a message on Twitter, will at the same time update the status of the Facebook user, thus allowing all connected Twitter contacts and Facebook friends to read the update.

This also comes at a price, there are inherent dangers associated with the use of social networking, including identity-theft and cyber-stalking, and users of online social networks, should be careful about what personal information they post online, and whom it is visible to, it is also all too easy for any user of the Internet to pose as anybody else from behind a keyboard. This is one of the disadvantages of online social networking, those with whom you network, may not always be as bone fide in person as what their online persona suggests. A well known example of this on Twitter is @CEOSteveJobs who despite having the name and profile picture of the Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, is in fact an imposter, who writes posts which are often humorous in nature – at the expense of both Apple and Steve Jobs. What follows is a review of a selection of online social networking tools, which may be useful for both students and graduates, with advice upon how they may be used most effectively for networking purposes. It should be noted that there are thousands of other networking tools and applications, with more being constantly created, the ones which have been chosen, are recognised as already having a sizeable user-base, or of being of particular use to student and graduate networkers.


Love it or hate it (and most students love it), there is no getting away from Facebook, and just why that is, is that seemingly everybody is using it. Since it’s 2004 launch Facebook has accrued 600 million global users (Carlson, 2011), which equates to around 10% of the world’s population, making it the worlds largest social networking platform. For social networking purposes, Facebook is difficult to surpass, however it may not always be the most appropriate platform by which to professionally network. From a student perspective Facebook is often used to share stories, gossip, status updates, photographs, videos and links to online content between friends – this is often good humoured, and presents a picture of the account holder’s personal life, including their ‘likes’ and ‘interests’.

Facebook users often enter many personal details on their accounts, including contact details and date of birth. A word of caution should be issued here, as identity theft is on the increase globally. Facebook users connect to other users as ‘friends’, a ‘friend request’ is sent when once person find the profile of another that they would like to ‘add as a friend’ and clicks on the associated link. It is recommended that only other users who are genuinely known as friends are added on Facebook. Adding strangers and people who are not really well known can be potentially dangerous. It is also a strong recommendation to change privacy settings within Facebook, so that only friends can see profile information beyond the initial page found in searches, it is also a suggestion, to opt-out of having your profile available to search by search engines, and not to use too outrageous a photograph for your profile image.

The dilemma with professional networking on Facebook, is that adding ‘professional’ contacts as friends, exposes a user’s personal life to them. This may not always present a Facebook user in the best possible light, and could in fact be counter-productive. A suggested way around this is to have more than one Facebook account, keeping one for personal contacts, and another for professional ones. However, maintaining these may prove in practice to be time-consuming, if the accounts receive regular postings / messages, and require much checking. Some students opt to change the name of their Facebook account from their real name to a pseudonym and keep this account for social networking, this means that they can then either have a second account in their real name for professional networking, or choose not to professionally network with Facebook. Having a pseudonym should minimise the risks in professional contacts finding a user on Facebook.

Another factor to consider, is that relationships with professional contacts, may over time change, so that contacts become much better well known, and indeed do become friends. Under these circumstances, becoming Facebook friends and sharing personal details may no longer be an issue. Caution and sensible judgement is urged on behalf of Facebook users.


LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional networking platform, which as of January 2011, had 90 million users worldwide (LinkedIn, 2011). The LinkedIn site allows users to maintain a list of professional contacts, in a similar way to what Facebook does with friends. LinkedIn members can search for the names of individuals, companies or groups, and from these find people with whom they would wish to connect. When somebody is found with whom a connection would like to be established, users may click on an ‘add to your network’ link. This will then generate an email to the LinkedIn account holder, who has the option to accept or request the address. Based upon user settings (predominantly companies worked for and connections) LinkedIn will suggest the names of people that may be of interest to connect with.

LinkedIn works through users posting updates on their statuses and sending messages around their professional networks to advertise opportunities such as job vacancies, and developmental opportunities. Employers can also search for suitable job candidates by performing keyword searches, and job-seekers can follow company announcements and look for openings that may arise, which are subsequently advertised upon LinkedIn. Members tend to display professional information such as companies worked for, positions, qualifications, professional biography, publications and awards in what is an online professional resume. This is ultimately a very efficient way for professional details to be stored, and accessed by those with who users network. The bank of connections that users collect, can be likened to a database of business cards and curriculum vitaes. LinkedIn users can also request a ‘recommendation’ from a specific contact, a recommendation is like a reference that somebody may request for a job application.

Whilst LinkedIn is the most used professional networking platform, it is still lagging behind many of the social networking platforms in terms of membership. It’s potential is yet to be truly exploited, but it is certainly an investment for the future to become a LinkedIn member. As many of the current ‘Facebook generation’ who appreciate the value and power of online networking platforms, leave university and become professionals, the uptake of LinkedIn will certainly increase. Many graduates will opt to keep their Facebook account for social networking, and create a LinkedIn account for professional networking. Making the transition from Facebook to LinkedIn will not prove too much of a challenge for many, and will of course help to keep business lives and personal lives separate.


Twitter is a micro-blogging site, which allows users to make text based posts of up to 140 characters per post, posts may include hyperlinks to other websites, or media clips such as photographs or videos. Twitter has been likened to ‘thinking out loud’ albeit to a global audience, each individual Twitter post is called a ‘tweet’. According to Quantcast (2010), Twitter currently has around 190 million global users, who generate 65 million tweets every day, and make 800,000 Twitter searches daily - these numbers are constantly increasing as more people sign up to and use Twitter.

Twitter is possibly the most useful and effective global networking tool in the world today, it’s simplicity and relatively uncomplicated nature make it reasonably easy to search, looking for the items which are of most interest, and from a networking perspective, allowing users to connect with those Twitter members who are discussing subjects that are of most interest. To connect to another user in Twitter users must opt to ‘follow’ them, which then sends a notification email to the user that is to be followed, informing them that another user is now following them. In the notification email that is sent, a link to Twitter profile of the follower is also contained, allowing the person who is to be followed the opportunity to look at the profile of who has elected to follow them. This then gives users the opportunity to decide whether or not they would like to the follow the user who is now following them (it also allows users to block other users from following them).

Tweets are publicly visible to a global audience by default, however it is possible to restrict posts to only followers, or to send directs messages (DMs) to particular followers only. It is also possible to forward the posts of other Twitter users so that they become visible to your own network of followers, this is called a ‘re-tweet’ (RT). Student and graduates studying in a particular discipline, should actively research useful contacts from both academia and industry via Twitter and follow their posts, so as to be kept up-to-date on key issues. At the very least they should find out if any of their tutors or course / department / faculty have a relevant Twitter account. Some examples of potentially useful Twitter users (tweet feeds) for both students and graduates to follow include the following:

• @artsjobs – features jobs in the arts around the UK.
• @ents_leeds_met – an example of a degree course tweet feed for the BA (Hons) Entertainment Management at Leeds Metropolitan University.
• @ICGUK - professional association for career guidance practitioners.
• @jobsintech - job postings around the U.S. in technology.
• @leedsmet – Leeds Metropolitan University’s official tweet feed.
• @mashable – this feed helps Twitter users make sense of the social web.
• @mycareersadvice – career advice and guidance for graduates.
• @NSDL - teaching and learning resources for science, technology, mathematics, and engineering.
• @postgrants – feed about educational grants and scholarship for various groups of people.
• @SocialMediaJob - jobs and internships in social media marketing, product management, community management and related fields.
• @thestartupeu - this feed supports business startups and entrepreneurship.
• @uclcareersblog – careers advice from the University of Central London’s blog.
• @zappos – this feed educates about customer service and marketing.

Twitter users often use a # symbol, known as a hashtag before key words in their tweets. These key words are typically searched for by other Twitter users, and putting a hashtag before a certain word allows for its recognition as a search term. Some examples include #employability, #olympics and #ewskongress – for this very conference. Twitter hashtags are increasingly used by marketers, who are keen to encourage Twitter users to search for something that they are promoting via a hashtag. Students and graduates should consider what exactly they are interested in searching for by terms, and then do Twitter searches to see what is shown in the results, some examples of potentially useful hashtags are as follows:

• #careers – careers advice and guidance.
• #dissertation – student dissertations.
• #employability – issues associated with employability skills development.
• #ERASMUS – ERASMUS exchange programmes.
• #ICrEAM – Issues in contemporary entertainment and arts management.
• #intern – Information relating to internships.
• #yep - young entrepreneurs and professionals.

Above are just a few examples of the many hashtags that are available as further resource check to search for a hashtag term, and to look for definitions of what hashtags mean, and to offer your own hashtags.

Twitter can be accessed either via the Twitter website – or through a variety of third party applications, that are available for both computers and mobile smart phones. The third party applications that are available for Twitter are numerous, some examples include: Tweetdeck; Ubertwitter, Tweetie and Twitterific. The interface by which these applications allow Twitter to be viewed and used is arguably more user-friendly than the actual Twitter website itself. The proliferation of applications such as these has helped to increase Twitter usage, particularly as many smart phones now come with a Twitter ‘app’ pre-installed, with many more ‘apps’ available in online stores, which are easily accessible from smart phones, and often for free. This allows Twitter users to Tweet from wherever they are, and not rely on having to be on a computer. ‘Thinking out loud’ to a global audience whilst on the move has never been easier!

If you are considering using Twitter as a student or a graduate for the purposes of networking, you need to realise that your Tweets are publicly visible, and will influence how those who read your Tweets see you, an abundance of Twitter posts about the minutiae of your personal life might not be the best way to impress a potential employer. If you want to make use of Twitter for professional networking purposes, it is suggested that you create a specific account for this purpose. It is not unusual for Twitter users to have multiple accounts, particularly those who use Twitter for a variety of reasons (including social networking, professional networking, and product marketing). It is relatively easy to manage multiple Twitter accounts from applications such as Tweetdeck, although confusion and mistakes can happen when a Tweet is broadcast from the ‘wrong’ account. One useful suggestion for managing multiple Twitter accounts from a Smart Phone, is to install several Twitter applications, and use one for each account, e.g. Tweetdeck for social networking and Ubertwitter for professional networking.

It should also be noted that anything controversial posted in a tweet may be re-tweeted by others and become viral, this may lead to criticism or even abuse to the original tweeter. Deleting a tweet is possible, but once it has been re-tweeted, there is little that can be done to stop a tweet spreading around the networks of Twitter users.

Twitter is still very much a growing online social networking platform, and to get involved with it now and become proficient in how it works, will certainly help to future-proof the skill-set of students and graduates. In years to come, the ability to use such tools as Twitter will be the expected norm, just as it is for email today.


Foursquare is a geo-social networking platform that allows users to register their whereabouts in specific locations, and at the same time leave comments, tips and take photographs of locations, which are known as venues. Foursquare requires users to have a ‘smartphone’ with the Foursquare application installed. It works by calculating the position of the phone through its GPS function, so users need to be very close to the venue into which they are checking into. Foursquare is also a social network, in that users can search for people they may know and add them as ‘friends’. For many users Foursquare is treat very much like a game, whereby friends compete against each other to check into the most number of venues, and become Foursquare venue ‘mayors’. A mayor is the person who has checked into a venue on the most number of days over the previous 60 days. For checking into venues, Foursquare users are awarded points and various badges.

From a professional networking perspective, Foursquare is a novel tool, which allows users to see who is at the same venue as what they are. The real usefulness of this is when the venue is an actual networking setting, for example a conference, lecture or trade show. This would allow users to see which other users have checked into the same venue as them. From a business networking perspective, Foursquare allows venue owners the opportunity to communicate with, and listen to feedback from their customers. Foursquare synchronises very easily with both Facebook and Twitter, this is part of its appeal, for social networkers, it easily allows Facebook friends to see where they are, but for Twitter uses, this allows for social or professional networking to take place, by tweeting the users location, along with a short message or photograph.

At present Foursquare has a relatively small user-base, as of December 2010, there were 5 million registered users (Merino, 2010). As the proliferation of smartphones continues, so will the number of Foursquare users. This is certainly a networking tool with a great deal of potential, and one that in future will have a greater significance for professional, business and social networkers. It is advisable to any student or graduate with a smartphone to investigate Foursquare, as with LinkedIn, becoming au-fait with this platform, at this early growth stage, will equip users with skills, which will be more recognised and desirable by employers in future.


MySpace is one of the longest running social and business networking platforms that is still in use today. However the sustainability of it’s future as a useful business networking tool has been brought into question. MySpace was overtaken by Facebook in terms of numbers of users in 2008, and has largely suffered in the face of Facebook’s success, in 2009 the company made 30% of its workforce redundant (Goldman, 2009). As of December 2010, daily unique visits had fallen to around 5 million, from over 22 million two years previously (Google, 2010).

From a networking perspective, MySpace is useful for creators of original content such as music and videos to showcase their work to potential fans, indeed MySpce has helped make famous both Kate Nash and Lilly Allen through them showcasing their work on the MySpace website, and building from that an increasing network of fans.

MySpace is generally targeted towards a ‘teen’ market, and as a professional networking platform for graduates, unless users are creating content to showcase, its usefulness may be limited.

The future

We live in the connected age, where we hardly ever need to be far away from the people we know, thanks largely to the mobile Internet and a plethora of apps that are designed to facilitate networking. In an increasingly competitive jobs-market, students and graduates need to become familiar with the networking tools, which are of most relevance to themselves, their discipline, their careers and their future aspirations. Some networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter can easily transcend numerous areas of academic and professional networking, whereas others such as Facebook tend to have a more social aspect. The creation of newer networking apps will continue, and both students and graduates should keep an eye on websites that highlight such developments.

To some industry figures, the use of such apps may be scorned due to their relative newness. The same thing happened around 15 years ago with the adoption of the Internet and domain names, leaving many companies and organisations red-faced and behind their competitors. Students and graduates are advised now to register with networking apps, and for those apps that are being used to professionally represent the user, create professional profiles, with sensible credible usernames and profile images. In years to come the value of established and well-used profiles, and the value of usernames will become apparent. Those who are not prepared will find themselves disadvantaged – it could be a good idea to register your username as your own name now, with a variety of networking apps, whether you actually go on to use them very much or not.

The only certainty with networking in the connected age is that it will continue to become faster, easier and more prolific in future. Students and graduates need to appreciate the power and value of online networking. Making the transition from Facebook to LinkedIn for students who become graduates will become an accepted right of passage, designed to facilitate future career progression. Being prepared to make that transition, and being prepared to be open to using new and emerging networking tools, will help to future-proof the skill-set of graduates. Embrace the technology, because its proliferation into our every-day lives is only ever going to increase.


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