Your Network is Shrinking: What That Means for You and Your Business

Networking is an essential element of the business development process for most CEOs. Professional relations are critical to client engagement and retention. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has interrupted how we connect and interact with business associates.

Research is now documenting the extended impact of the pandemic – your networks are shrinking.

The American Sociological Association published a recent study calculating the downstream implications of the social-distancing practices adopted to minimize the spread of Covid-19. The study highlights the impact these social-distancing practices have had in our business and personal lives. One of its key findings is professional and private networks have shrunk by as much as 16 percent since the start of the pandemic.

In a related article, the Harvard Business Review analyzed the potential business implications of the ASA study. Specifically, how professional and personal networks and the accumulated social capital that underpins all relationships has deteriorated due to Covid-19.

HBR reports a person typically has several relationship circles of influence, from the people closest to us to a broader network of acquaintances and associates one may recognize by sight or engage periodically based on shared interests or affiliations.

During the pandemic, many people had outer circle contacts fall away with no replacement

The pandemic has caused sizable shrinkage in the outer circle of our social network – the people you might meet at industry events, trade shows or networking opportunities. Unfortunately, these outer circle contacts frequently serve as catalysts for the contacts, referrals, new ideas or “ah ha” moments business leaders rely on to fuel innovation.

The ASA study appears to support the related earlier work by sociologist Mark Granovetter on the importance and relative strength of intrapersonal connections in his study Strength of Weak Ties. It also suggests an additional threat to the social capital themes outlined by Robert Putnum in his book Bowling Alone and the cumulative impact of social ties expressed by author Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point.

The point is the “weaker” ties in the outer circle of your professional network are much more critical to your business than you might realize. The well-spring of new ideas from the outer circle of your professional network reveal and generate opportunities for your business. Degradation of contacts at the perimeter without replenishment is potentially a serious business issue.

As the vaccination distribution program expands and the business world returns to pre-pandemic behaviors, extra effort will be needed to reestablish our professional networks. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Be deliberate about crafting a post-pandemic marketing strategy that includes specific “network development” elements designed to rebuild your circles of influence at all levels to maximize your ability to compete.

Many of your industry peers have endured the degradation of their professional network, whether they know it or not, and may be particularly responsive to sincere efforts to engage or reengage. By embracing this reality on behalf of your clients, suppliers and prospects your business can emerge from the market challenges posed by Covid-19 stronger and more resilient than originally anticipated.

Suggested action items to consider

  • Commit to dedicating time each day to cultivate existing relationships or actively pursue new contacts (establish your own “never eat alone” guideline) – to reconnect and build the relationships essential for long term success. Be intentional about seeking first to serve by offering value, rather than simply focusing on near-term, transactional sales.
  • Encourage your management team to do the same – to rethink and expand their conventional networking efforts to establish the connections and access to the ideas and trends that may have deteriorated during the constraints imposed by Covid-19.

In 2020, the way business was conducted changed rapidly for many companies as the world reacted to the pandemic. As we anticipate a return to pre-pandemic business conditions, another period of rapid change is likely. Business leaders that are intentional about replenishing their professional networks stand the best chance to expand market share and grow their business as market conditions improve.

Click here to view the Harvard Business Review.
Click here to review the American Sociological Association study.
Click here to view the CEO Nexus Covid Brain article.
Click here to view Strength of Weak Ties by Mark Granovetter.
Click here (members-only) to view What CEOs Need to Know About Emotional Intelligence (EI) by
Mark Freeman, PH.D

About CEO Nexus 
CEO Nexus is committed to serving business owners and executive teams leading growth-oriented, second-stage businesses. Our facilitated peer roundtable program utilizes the CEO Nexus Content Model, which focuses on leadership, sales, operations, and finance.