I recently read a very interesting study by Rob Cross of the University of Virginia entitled "How Top Talent Uses Networks and Where Rising Stars Get Trapped". The article really brought to mind how you think about networking - is it how big your network is or is it the quality that counts?
Networks need to be thoughtful and make sense. It doesn't really help you to go out and connect with hundreds of people that you met once just to drive your LinkedIn or Facebook numbers up. You really want to build your network with people who you know, respect and/or have something in common with. As this report states, "most high performers succeed by developing targeted networks that extend their abilities". These can be abilities used through work, common interests, volunteering, whatever. Cross also found that "as much as 90% of the information employees take action on comes from people in their network". I, at least, found this point to be pretty telling.
Care for your network. Networks need to be attended to...and need to be monitored on a regular basis. Generally you will add to your network, but you should also evaluate your contacts to see how they all fit together. Are all your contacts in one industry? One company? Or do you have a significant amount of diversity among your connections that can be leveraged for many different situations? Aim for the diversity, as more varied contacts can help you see the bigger picture and allow you to get a better variety of information. You want to be connected with people who can help you continually learn and grow.
Be creative. Take a minute and think about your network and how you are all connected. Does your network cover all of your interests? Does it cover where you are and where you want to go in terms or your job or your life? What can make it better? Then start looking for ways to connect to people who can make it better and who can fulfill that certain area you are looking to gain expertise in. Or network with a group who gets together to discuss something you are interested in. This creative thinking will help to expand who you know, how you know them, and increase the overall quality of your connections.