NetOne of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt during my career so far is the value of networking. Nowadays there are so many choices and easy ways to keep in touch with past friends, colleagues and acquaintances that I don’t think there is much excuse for not keeping the lines of communication open.

Whether you are active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or any other social media site, or are simply good at scrolling through your mobile and calling those names you usually skip past, I think networks should never be underestimated.

Sharing best practice is one of those clunky but relevant phrases which in my mind basically boils down to how good your personal network is.  For example if you are thinking of rolling out an employee survey campaign, you can’t beat knowing who to call from your network to give you top tips based on their experiences.

I believe there is no need to limit your network solely to people you know. There is merit keeping in regular contact with ex-colleagues you know and trust, however sites like LinkedIn are great to unite people with common interests and you can find them by joining relevant groups. For example if you work in the external communications team at a university, you can search for other people with a similar role to yours and can learn from and advise each other. One of the great things about online networking for me is that regardless of location, you can be united by a common interest and work together to constantly educate yourself, learn and share experiences.

But it’s not just online that is important. When I was a journalist I relied on my network of teachers, butchers, market traders, hairdressers, councillors, vets, funeral directors, shopkeepers and other professions to provide context to my stories and substantiate my articles with their knowledge. This was pre-Google; I spent hours in libraries at the start of my career and out talking to my contacts. Over the course of a conversation I could glean enough information to write about diverse topics such as foot and mouth, council decisions or the history of guide dogs in the knowledge it made sense to those in the know as I had expanded my network and understanding. The same applies for corporate communication.

Within the communications community there are lots of chances for people with similar interests to come together and for us to expand our networks. One such event, which I have just signed up for, is the Strategic Communication Management Summit 2009. It is taking place at The Tower Hotel, London, on 14-15 October with pre-conference workshops on 13 October and has some really interesting speakers lined up. I think it looks like the ideal place to expand my network and learn from experts in our field. I think opportunities like this should be grabbed with both hands – expanding personal contacts through networking means we have chances to bounce ideas off each other and constantly work together to help improve the communications industry. Count me in!

What are your experiences? Let me know what you think about networking and your top tips for keeping in touch.