From the desk of Michael J. Hughes, North America’s Networking Guru. It’s time to assess where we’re going for 2012. Here’s my take on the top networking-related trends for the coming year.

  1. Return of F2F. The explosion of interest and involvement in social networks has, in many cases, only served to confuse the marketplace about products or services. There is a resurgence of face-to-face contact as a powerful, productive business strategy. In fact, face-to-face networking is now considered a “differentiator” that uses the human dynamic to positively impact context and credibility.

    STRATEGY: for more success in 2012, implement a bi-weekly networking strategy that allows you to connect directly with your highest-value clients and prospects.

  2. Rise of the machine. Having stated the above, there is to question that social networks have become an integral, necessary component of a personal marketing strategy. You cannot afford not to be visible and active online. However,  as social networks have matured, it has become obvious that their true benefit is not as an either-or networking option, but as a compliment and contributor to accelerating client and professional relationships.

    STRATEGY: In 2012, make it a priority to get online, get educated and get active.  Networking is now a holistic strategy that incorporates both online and offline activities as part of the relationship-building process.

  3. Confirming networking ROI. Today’s competitive marketplace is forcing professionals to justify every investment. Joining a group or attending events without a proper plan and solid evidence of results is no longer acceptable. The opportunity cost in both time and resources is just too high. The good news is that networking is still your highest-return leverage strategy when used effectively.

    STRATEGY: In 2012, invest more time and effort planning and preparing for networking success. Develop clear objectives and measure your progress on a monthly, even weekly basis.

  4. Personalized value. The old adage of unique value as a benefit area is dead, as is the over-used analogy of being better by supplying added value. The new competitive difference lies in creating a value premise (or package) customized to each client’s situation and/or needs. The shift from delivering a value statement to discovering the value gap, and having prospects see you as the bridge, has now become your most important networking tactic.

    STRATEGY: In 2012, commit to changing your networking paradigm from a self-focused agenda and make it “all about them.” I consider this trend and corresponding strategy a critical success factor in the coming year.

  5. The relationship factor. Professionals, entrepreneurs and corporate managers agree that relationships are the basis for success in business and in life. Creating and nurturing relationships in today’s matrix-oriented, the technology-driven world is now a required skill. Relationship-management is a social process that can be learned and managed. Networking, with its capacity to ignite and accelerate relationships, is the perfect resource for our time.

    STRATEGY: In 2012, invest in building your networking skills. Your survival and future success depend on it.

  6. Collaboration nation. The idea of being a unique entity is fast fading into the sunset. Consumers are now in the driver’s seat, with more options and opportunities than ever before. The business world is now a buyer’s market. How can you offset this shift in positioning and power? Networking creates connections and builds relationships. Entrepreneurs and business professionals are more open than ever to collaborate with trusted partners for mutual gain.

    STRATEGY: In 2012, instead of seeing competitors at networking events or in the marketplace, explore how you both can benefit from working together.

  7. Adapt, expand, innovate. We are in an age that defines constant change as “the new normal.” Geographic boundaries have disappeared, generational disparities complicate our lives and the lines between work and home seem to be blurring. Rather than lamenting this brave new world, why not use 2012 to embrace it?

    STRATEGY: Adapt your networking behaviour and tactics for this new environment, expand your networking reach by taking on new roles or adopting new resources, and commit to networking innovation.

BONUS: Here’s one final item on networking-related trends. Recent surveys confirm that, even with our expanded connectivity and the explosion of online activity, many people are feeling an increase in their sense of loneliness. Fight the urge to sit in front of your computer, perceiving that sending out requests-to-connect is networking. The real connections are waiting for you at the next networking event.

What’s your take on these trends? I’d love to hear your comments. Email me at info@NetworkingForResults.com”