Network intelligence: the smarter way to make use of loose digital connections

A startup exec promotes a concept that sounds like a technology tool but is really a way of managing relationships over a variety of social platforms

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Sometimes it can be hard to determine whether advances in technology are bringing us closer together, or pushing us further apart. For the first time we have the ability to put a number to the amount of “friends” we have, or at least the amount of people we know well enough to follow or connect with on social media.

But what’s the point of maintaining these tenuous relationships? Is there any value in hanging on to a loose digital connection to someone you had a group-project with in grade school? Or your former colleague from three jobs ago? Or those countless people you handed your business card to at a conference some years ago?

While many have answered by purging their social media databases of such tenuous relationships, others are finding innovative ways to find mutual benefit from these rough connections, through a new movement called network intelligence.

What is Network Intelligence?

As recently described by Falon Fatemi on Re/Code, network intelligence is a new way of thinking of our vast online social networks, making good use of such connections for the purposes of recruiting, sales and partnerships. While you might not stop if you walked past one of your forgotten Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections on the street, perhaps there’s an opportunity to buy from, sell to, recruit or partner with them in the future. According to Fatemi, network intelligence works with business intelligence analytics tools by identifying the mutual value that those loose connections might be able to provide.

How Does it Work?

Network intelligence tools use big data analytics to help identify mutual interests, business goals and opportunities. Like it or not, our social media platforms know a lot about us as individuals, including our careers, buying habits and areas of interest. It is by combining these interests with our massive online networks that network intelligence helps us bridge gaps that would otherwise take time to establish on our own.

Who’s Leading the Charge?

Fatami suggests the biggest proponents of the network intelligence movement are, unsurprisingly, the social networks themselves, many of which have introduced new products and services to help users make better use of their network connections. Behind them are the sales and analytics platforms, which are arriving at innovative ways to use big data to identify potential opportunities that lay buried somewhere in the users’ lengthy social media connections list.

Where else is Network Intelligence Being Utilized? 

Though the tech giants have been the first out of the gate, network intelligence is popping up in many different sectors, including small and medium sized firms. Coworking spaces, for example, are starting to use network intelligence tools to build connections between members. New York-based Relationship Science, or RelSci, is in the process of releasing an application called Path Finder to help navigate through the social media noise to find meaningful working relationships.

Will it Catch On?

I, for one, certainly hope so. Why else have I kept hundreds of virtual strangers on my Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections lists? But more importantly, the movement solves two problems: making use of otherwise forgotten connections, and finding the right people — whether for buying, selling, partnering, hiring or whatever it may be. This would otherwise be an overwhelming task, considering we average several hundred social media connections on each network.

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