Networking with peers isn't a science — there is no right or wrong way — but IT leaders who commit to fostering their networks of coworkers and colleagues online can benefit in myriad ways. Technology and social media will never replace face-to-face conversations. However, a well-built digital network of intelligent and influential peers can be invaluable for IT leaders who need to stay informed and connected with the issues and individuals that are key to their professional endeavors.
There's is no single, go-to network for CIOs and IT leaders, though LinkedIn is a popular option. Facebook may be the preferred place to connect for some CIOs because they're already logging in to the world's largest social network every day for personal interaction, while others may gravitate to smaller and more goal-oriented communities. Ultimately, technology professionals need to determine which sites work best for them, and then form their own habits and objectives.
Keys to strong peer networks
Diversity of thought and experience are the most important aspects of a professional network, according to Angela Yochem, CIO of logistics and transportation companyBDP International. Yochem's network includes a variety of different colleagues, such as corporate executives, technologists, designers, board members, strategists, academics, entrepreneurs, writers and analysts. Yochem also says a well fostered and diverse network of peers helps her manage her career.
"My network is yet another window or lens through which to view the world," Yochem says. "The observations and engagements of people in my network enrich my perspective of events, and with that enhanced perspective I am more valuable to my business and my colleagues."
Jim Edmunds, IT director with civil construction and materials company Allan Myers, says professionals have to be social to foster a strong peer networks and reap the most rewards. Edmunds particularly values in-person conversations at various industry events, but he pays attention to what his peers are up to on various social media websites, as well. "You never know what interesting things you might learn from the people you meet and what they are up to."
Network with IT thought leaders and gauge the competition
Edmunds's networking goals are to make connections with thought leaders, validate career directions and identify his and his IT team's place in relation to the people and companies on the leading tech edge. "The connections you make help contribute to making an informed determination of your pace and place in regards to implementation of technology."
To keep his network organized and suited for his professional goals, Edmunds breaks peer groups into two major categories: software or technology, and role-specific events. Edmunds and other IT leaders connect on common ground around technology or software, but he also sees opportunity in the ability to share ideas and validate strategic direction. His network of peers from IT-related events is designed to help him connect and share ideas with a broad selection of different types of people from around the tech world.
Kerrie Hoffman, vice president of IT with building and automotive firm Johnson Controls, says her relatively large, diverse and global network includes various IT and business partners, as well as other contacts she made throughout her career. LinkedIn is Hoffman's platform of choice for maintaining those connections, but she also uses other platforms to stay in touch with Asia-based contacts.
"It's very important as a CIO to build an external, industry-based network of thought leaders, venture capitalists and peers in other industries," she says. "Given the rapid changes in technologies that are now being applied beyond the back office to products and services, and the emergence of digital business models, it is critical to have a broad network to keep up with advances and how to apply them within my company."
Unique networking challenges for IT leaders
Yochem says CIOs face unique challenges and opportunities when cultivating networks of peers.
"CIOs touch all aspects of a business, CIOs are the launch point for differentiation through technology and CIOs are not vertically-bound throughout their careers," she says. "CIOs must build a community that includes business leaders across many verticals, from a variety of functions and business types, and strong ties to the startup community."
Yochem also stressed the importance of social media networking and the role it's played in her career. "I've had the pleasure of working with brilliant people from around the world, and without social media those relationships would have fizzled out," she says. "With social media, we are able to stay in touch on a professional or personal level or sometimes both, share ideas, collaborate on short-term projects and build long-term relationships."
One quick way to jumpstart your network is to join a formal group of peers, but you shouldn't limit your search to specific functions, verticals or company sizes, according to Yochem. "Start building your network by giving something of value to a community, whether it's tangible sponsorship, advice, deep thoughts or otherwise."
"In the end, there are many opportunities out there to network in person or virtually," Edmunds says. "You have to find the ones that work for you, but regardless of which ones you pick, you need to participate in order to get value out of them."