Article by Cynthia Chirinda
It is possible to be conscious of social capital, and to consciously build your social capital, but it is always going to be most beneficial when there are no expectations of a return on your investment.
Social capital can be ‘used up’ or ‘spent’ if too many favours are ‘called in’ without reciprocation. When we benefit from social capital in less prescriptive ways we tend to actually improve our social capital rather than deplete it.
The nature of social capital
Social capital exists between people and does not reside with a single actor, a single person, so social capital cannot be realised without the right context. This means there is a strong element of chance in the realisation of social capital.
The core intuition of social capital is that being social has benefits. This doesn’t seem like a ground-breaking discovery, or one that should require a term to capture or communicate its meaning. Humans are social by nature, we have evolved to be social and it is a defining characteristic of what it means to be human.
It’s not difficult to understand that we, and society generally, benefit from being social: helping, sharing, and caring about our fellow humans. Being social is being human and our society and economy is inescapably linked to sociability.
The African Proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together,” amplifies the relevance of social capital.
The fact that the ‘social’ has been framed as ‘capital’ is an indictment on modern culture and values. Throughout human history the importance and value of social relationships has been intuitively understood and nurtured. However, in the ego-driven, individualistic, self-interested, and rational modern era social factors have been consistently underestimated, undervalued, and “underprioritised.”
For the sake of simplicity, however, we can think of social capital as the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.
Varieties of social capital
There’s much debate over the various forms that social capital takes, but one fairly straightforward approach divides it into three main categories:
Bonds: Links to people based on a sense of common identity – such as family, close friends and people who share our culture or ethnicity.
Bridges: Links that stretch beyond a shared sense of identity, for example to distant friends, colleagues and associates.
Linkages: Links to people or groups further up or lower down the social ladder.
The potential benefits of social capital can be seen by looking at social bonds. Friends and families can help us in lots of ways – emotionally, socially and economically.
The expertise of your connections make up your social capital. Do not underestimate its value and do not feel afraid of mobilizing it by reaching out to your connections.
Social capital is not about using and abusing the knowledge and resources of your connections. If you do this, you will end up damaging your relationships. Soon you will be alone or only surrounded by people whose goal is to exploit you.
How can you use your Social Capital?
Here are 7 ways to build your social capital to advance your goals:
1. Network proactively.
Networking proactively provides an advantage by supporting you with a powerful collection of people who are willing and able to speak for you on an ongoing basis. The network is there for you when you need it because you’ve built the social capital.
2. Be strategic.
Strategic networking is more than socializing and swapping business cards, it’s creating solid relationships to support your aspirations. Identify who you know and who you need to know to help you reach your goal and build a power network to support your advancement.
3. Create a diverse network.
In order to network effectively, you need to move out of your comfort zone and identify people who can help your career, not just those people you like. Highly open networks, a diverse set of individuals who don’t know one another, is often associated with accelerated goal achievement.
4. Pay it forward and leverage relationships.
Identifying the right people, those people who have power and influence and who are willing to recommend you, is the first step. Building and nurturing relationships of trust is next. The third important step is to leverage the relationships by paying it forward, being willing to help others and asking for assistance when you need it.
5. Set aside dedicated time each week to network.
Schedule at least one networking meeting per week. Make it your intention to have lunch or coffee with colleagues and key stakeholders. Put it on your calendar or it won’t happen!
6. Keep in touch with former colleagues and alums.
While it’s important to build a network of contacts to support your career goal, it’s equally important to nurture the relationships you have. Former colleagues, bosses, alums already know the value you offer and can recommend you for new opportunities. It pays to stay in touch.
7. Focus your social media networking efforts.
One would think that because we are constantly connected online, that networking in this manner is easy. Online professional networking is not without challenges. It is difficult to cut through all the noise. The number of people who connect with us is daunting and as a result, it’s easy to lose our strategic focus. The point is that the number of contacts in your online network is not nearly as important as the quality.
In summary, we are frequently told about the importance of networking. Yet we are not necessarily taught how to network in a strategic manner to support our goals and aspirations. The best way to move significantly ahead is to build and nurture mutually beneficial relationships with people who can speak for you and create the visibility you need to succeed.
Cynthia Chirinda is an Organizational and Personal Development Consultant, a Life Coach, Author, and Strategist. Her published books speak to matters that position individuals and leaders to achieve their significant goals. Looking at improving your career, personal effectiveness, communication skills, relationships, focus, faith and happiness? Wholeness Incorporated Coaching offers you strategies you can implement today to review your progress and achieve your goals. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. LinkedIn: Cynthia Chirinda. Mobile: 263 717 013 206. Website:www.cynthiac.net.