Business Development: Utilizing Social Networks and Network Weaving
Economic Development Project Manager
Social networks are recognized as one of the crucial factors contributing to success in careers and/or entrepreneurship. Globally competitive entrepreneurs rely on their social network of weak ties, people they interact with infrequently, to access information and learn about new opportunities. Entrepreneurs with extensive weak ties in their network identify significantly more opportunities than an entrepreneur with a smaller network.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs have a limited number of weak ties and a large network of strong ties. Strong ties refer to close friends and family. An individual with few weak ties has limited access to information from distant parts of the social system and a generally myopic view of the world as seen via strong ties. Entrepreneurs tend to build relationships with organizations and individuals who are a part of their social network since they frequently interact with them and have developed a relationship of mutual trust, shared values and beliefs, self-limiting the kind and number of opportunities they could access with a broader network.
Social Network Analysis (SNA) is the study of interaction among these social actors. Social actors can be human individuals, organizations, companies and even animals like bees or ants! Actors can also be cities, states, nations or groups. SNA deals with understanding how social ties work and how they influence and affect the involved network participants. Examining social ties helps to understand linkages that exist, reveals gaps that are present and points to connectors in a given network.
Proactive network weaving, a deliberate process of bridging and connecting to extend one's social network of weak ties, can close network holes by finding missed or overlooked opportunities and creating new and richer connections in networks between and among people, groups and entities.
Network weaving is a term coined by June Holley to describe the act of deliberately connecting others in an effort to strengthen social ties. Network weaving is the process of building community and strengthening social capital in a community by bringing together and better connecting the actors in a social network. A network weaver by definition refers to, "a person who takes responsibility for making networks healthier by connecting people, coordinating self-organized projects, facilitating networks and being a network guardian."
A successful network weaving approach uses social network maps to look at networks that exist, the ties they form and potential network weavers. Network weaving engages local stakeholders by connecting previously disconnected actors, scouting for new opportunities and working together as a group for better outcomes to encourage new relationships and collaborations.
AMI's work through the Kansas Opportunity Innovation Network (KOIN) aims to weave networks that can fill the holes in the social structure for unconnected companies, communities and regions. Any individual or organization serving as a network weaver or an intermediary can help entrepreneurs benefit in a number of ways.
A network weaver/intermediary can assist business development by joining the unconnected to new markets and unexplored opportunities. Since network weavers/intermediaries can look at and into different groups at the same time, ideas, techniques and practices from one group can be applied to problems faced by another.
Network weavers/intermediaries can also innovate by synthesizing and combining different ideas taken from more than one group. The primary job of a network weaver/intermediary in a fragmented network is to build capacity to more systematically scout for opportunities and link them to the right partners at the right time. Doing this will help entrepreneurs/businesses look beyond their immediate market or region, collaborate with partners in other markets and promote unique boundary-spanning innovation opportunities.
We all connect to others every day in our businesses and organizations. Network weaving can help in building trust among the network participants involved. Increased trust among actors (businesses) facilitates greater collaboration resulting in increased exposure to new markets, business opportunities, contacts and product development for businesses. Business growth and development occur where great ideas intersect with opportunity. Why leave that process up to chance? Actively knit your next great business opportunity together, before someone else does.