Network activation & the importance of materiality

By Niamh O'Keeffe

Whenever I’m attending a networking event and get asked the question ‘and what do you do?’, I generally get one of two reactions to my response.

The first is “Oh, that sounds interesting” and a polite smile tempered by a look of fear in the respondent’s eyes that says “I don’t understand what you do and I hope I don’t have to ask any follow up questions.”

The second reaction is broadly enthusiastic – “As it happens,” they will say, “I am really trying to boost the profile and reputation of my business/charity/sports club/cat’s YouTube account. What should I do?”.

For most people, the term 'networking' conjures up images of bleary eyed business people nibbling on sad looking croissants while trying to think of some sparkling conversation at a 7am breakfast briefing in drafty hotel room. 

Effective networking is quite the opposite. It’s about knowing who you want to reach, how to reach them and, most importantly, engaging effectively when you do.

At ReputationInc we’re introducing increasing numbers of clients to the concept of ‘materiality’ -  helping create shared value with stakeholders by focusing on shared priorities.

Originally a financial tool, the concept of materiality can easily be applied to an organisation’s reputation. In this context, we define it as the practice of differentiating what is significant from what is noise - working out the ‘crossing point’ between the expectations of key stakeholders and the organisation’s internal assessment of what is business-critical. In the increasingly complex web of stakeholder relations and expectations organisations are struggling to work out which topics are most important to address.

This involves investing energy establishing exactly who it is you want to reach out to and what exactly their business priorities are.

There are lots of ways of aligning interests ranging from reviewing stakeholders’ online presence (website, LinkedIn, Twitter), to assessing recent media outings from either the company or individual, or getting an insight into their business or industry from someone in the know. Doing this will give you plenty of inspiration about what you can offer them. 

This is a simple and effective approach that can be applied to any stakeholders you might wish to engage be it a Government Minister, an important customer or key decision maker in an organisation. 

Building and cultivating really good networks will continue to remain an important conduit to business. However applying materiality to a small list of 5 to 10 people is a far better use of resources than taking a scattergun approach and sending out a hundred generic emails to a hundred disinterested targets.

Most importantly, it will keep your consumption of sad looking croissants to a minimum!

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