In the networking eco-systems, the terms network contact and network connection are often used interchangeably. Although they may seem pretty much the same, there is a difference between them. Let’s look at the similarities and differences between the way these terms are used on both sites.
What is a Network Contact?
A network contact is someone that you have contacted for some reason.
According to the LinkedIn website, which has done a lot to define the term in the common vernacular, “A (network) contact is someone you’ve sent a message or invitation to”.
When networking, a person whom you meet or interact with on a superficial level in the hopes of establishing a relationship for some other purpose – either as a networking client, customer, supplier, mentor, or other – is called a network contact.
Network contact relationships are characterized by a lack of implied reciprocity and are by their very nature transactional. In other words, I ask for something from you and you respond either by fulfilling my request, turning it down, or just being indifferent. There is no necessity to comply or provide what is requested.
Turning a contact down or ignoring their request carries with it very little guilt or negative stigmatization.
Network contact relationships are usually self-serving and lack any emotional investment. People will turn to their network contacts when a need arises that they are unable to manage themselves. They will then engage with their network contacts to ask them for help in providing a solution of some sort.
Since there is no bonding or sense of implied reciprocity, most network contacts will ignore the request and any that do respond will do so as a favor without any expectation of compensation – although perhaps with the faint hope that they will be rewarded in some way.
What is a Connection?
According to the LinkedIn website, “A (network) connection is a contact who you have a 1st-degree connection to”. This is a definition narrowly applied to that website in particular. But it alludes to a relationship between two people that enables them to contact one another without any formalities.
In my opinion, a network connection is quite different, however.
A network connection is a long-term relationship that is underpinned by a bond of friendship that has been forged over an extended period. As with all genuine friendships, there is a sense of implied reciprocity, meaning that any help you provide to your network connection today will be returned in kind to you when you need it.
What is more, network connections know a lot more about one another than simply the other’s name, contact details, and position. They know something about their family, their interests, and their past.
Network connections can be relied on and will feel duty-bound to help you out of a bind, even if it is inconvenient or costly as you would have previously helped them. What is more, the help given by network connections is not done so “to even the score” but rather from a place of genuine concern.
Making connections is the goal of networking as the true value of a network lies in the skills, influence, and resources of its connections.
In short, network contacts are acquaintances while network connections are friends.
You will start with a huge pool of contacts but your goal is to end up with a (small) group of high-quality connections.