I’d been fascinated with social media for a while, but when someone asked me whether social networking was any different from networking physically with people, I realised that there are a lot of similarities in the way I behave online and offline. A lot of the face to face meetings I’ve had are with people I originally started to connect with online. I’ve met my virtual connections at a ’tweetup’ (a Twitter meetup) or at an online business networking event, and sometimes I’ve moved forward to meet them in person. Some of these connections will turn into valuable business relationships, others will be tenuous connections or ties to other people. These casual connections communicate infrequently with me online. When I’m at a face to face networking or business event, I collect business cards, some from people who turn out to be valuable connections and some from people I will never hear from again. However, I’ve been amazed by some fantastic and inspirational people at physical events, and with a little effort to make contact and really connect this has turned up some valuable business and personal contacts for me both online and offline. I’ve made some great online connections after physical networking events and I stay in touch with these people much more often than I would have done after a traditional business card exchange.

Face to face networking, according to the Harvard Business school, ‘is about building a portfolio of relationships that will help you to continue to develop your career‘. These relationships will thrive if you know what is going on around you. The same applies to online networking too.

If you want to progress in business, don’t wait to be discovered. Make sure you have a great online profile and a positive brand.

Keeping close tabs on what is going on, being an active contributor, with valid opinions, information and advice, will raise your profile and help you progress in your career.

I network in lots of different ways—face to face, on the phone, via email, text, online and by using social media. This form of online networking keeps me in touch with so many more people than just email or phone does. I get a huge buzz from connecting people who can help each other out. It gives me a great satisfaction to actually make that connection. So it—s not all about my work.

Your world of friends and family, colleagues and business connections is defined by the people you are connected to. Some of your friends know each other; some of your friends are isolated in your social circle. Some of your connections will be farther out in distance from your close family. Some will be people in your address book whom you hardly ever see, others will be connected to you in some way on a daily basis. You can map your connections in the form of a graph. This is your ‘social graph‘, with your more distant connections mapping to the outskirts of the graph. This ‘social distance‘ defines the limits of your graph. But it can provide the gateway to join you to other graphs.

There are tools that leverage the connections in your own social graph and online sites that make it really easy to connect with your friends and the friends of your friends. These online tools make it simple to meet and connect with people in similar situations who can then make more people aware of you and your capabilities. You can make connections across the board with senior colleagues, competitors, and local business people—even with politicians perhaps? It is possible. You want to meet people who can help you—but where can you find them? There are online connections with your colleagues and IT peers, your friends and family and your friends— friends. There are professional associations and networks, vendors and consultants who could be connected to you. It really does seem like social networking has become an amazing business enabler.

I’ve been immersed in collaborative technology for over 15 years and it has changed my perspective about the world around me. I’ve used social networking tools from time to time since I started in IT, and it was only when I started thinking about which social media mechanisms I use inside and outside my workplace, especially when I travel, that I realised just how much it was a key part of my life.

I’ve been a lurker, a listener, a broadcaster, a conversationalist and an influencer. I’ve asked for help in forums, talked to strangers using chat software and created videos to help people out. I’ve shared interesting and not so interesting facts, initially by email to my friends, latterly through my blog, and now on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and SlideShare. I’ve used several different types of tools to syndicate my news and information across other sites so that contacts in different realms can keep in touch. I have a fairly consistent online brand, and searches for eileenb, my online brand profile name, get the searcher to all of the sites I intend it to. But it’s my own social behaviour that makes me curious.

Why do I continue this level of interaction with my virtual friends and connections, lots of whom I’ve never met? What drives this altruistic behaviour, this desire of mine to help others? Is this a desire to connect or communicate, inform or engage? Do I want to convert others to my way of thinking by regularly interacting with my circle of friends, colleagues and connections? Or do I want to try and persuade my friends in my immediate network to tell their friends who are outside my directly connected network about the latest and greatest in technology? What drives my behaviour?

To find out why I do this, I began to take a closer look at the mechanisms behind it. I wanted to find out why it has become such a key part of the digital marketing, community and advertising strategy. I wanted to understand why this mechanism effectively connects you with your customers, amplifies your message and engages your audience. I wanted to know how this network—the —word of mouth network—, or the —world of mouth network——has become such a powerful tool to use in business in the 21st century.