Networking takes place on so many different levels, with the greatest development now being on line. So what is online networking all about? Who better to ask than Carrie Longton, co-founder of Mumsnet. Over the last 16 years Mumsnet has become the UK’s busiest and most influential network for parents with over 14 million visits a month, more than 200 local sites, and a network of 7500 bloggers so we thought Carrie might know a thing or two about online networking! Parental Choice was grateful to be able to talk to her to discuss networking….
What is networking for you?
“Networking” is a funny word and can sometimes have quite negative connotations. Networking in the most hideous sense is when you go to an event (usually one you are dreading) with drinks and nibbles in a room filled with people spending time looking at your breasts as that is usually where the badge is placed and wondering who wants something from you or who would rather be talking to someone else!
True networking whether it be on a corporate or personal level, is actually about sharing experiences; sharing knowledge, expertise, and support through a community. Whether it be corporate or personal it’s all about pulling together.
Networking can be really very daunting for parents, whether it be meeting new parents at the school gate or starting a new job. But the essence of networking is talking to people going through the same as you and being able to share and gain the knowledge each one of you has gained. For parents there really is no substitute for reaching out to people who are in the same boat not only for practical but also emotional help. An online community such as Mumsnet allows you to be a parent; it allows you to learn from people’s experiences and gain best practice advice from similar people.
A century ago life was about the local community. Do online communities replicate that way of living and networking in the 21st century?
Networking is not just about what’s in it for me and what will I get out it. It’s also about helping out other people and who will in return get advice and support to pass on to others. This is very much how previous generations would have networked. The help might not be immediate but you never know when people will help you in return.
Networking helps on every level from a practical support system at the school gates sharing school runs to the netball game to an emotional crutch when things don’t go according to plan. When starting a new business it is so important to network and share resources. If you haven’t got all the skills you need sometimes you can find people with skills they can exchange. This is a really useful form of networking.
Networking in it’s purest form of mutual help and support is what the Mumsnet community is based on . Mentoring someone in business or personally gives you satisfaction too and Carrie has found this personally beneficial. After a mentoring session she remembers things she didn’t know that she knew and has helped reignite her own enthusiasm. It has been proved that we feel better and live longer if we help others…so there is always something to gain from networking.
Her advice “Never be afraid of networking in the truest sense – it’s simply helping others”.
What’s been the secret of Mumsnet’s success?
We set it up to help makes parents’ lives easier and that’s still our aim. We all want to know ‘does it work?”, “is it any good?’ – whether that’s about a brand, a recipe, sleep training or nurseries – the topics are endless! Parents trust other parents and the advice given by Mumsnet users to each other is unbiased , authentic and trustworthy and therefore gives users the reassurance and help they want and need .
Is there a typical mumsnetter?
No! Except for the fact that they all have a sense of humour. Mumsnet produces a level of debate and Mumsnetters can get going on anything from Brexit or mother-in-laws but they do it always with humour. Plus when the chips are down they are great at rallying together and that’s what gives Carrie that warm, fuzzy feeling!
Mumsnet is quite simply women (and some men!) getting together to help each other. It’s a genuine community; albeit virtually. Mumsnet provides that hand holding through the night…and you don’t necessarily get this in real life… people going through the same as you at the same time! Sometimes it’s not always about practical advice but simply getting empathy.
As a new mum it’s a daunting prospect going on Mumsnet for the first time with all the information on there. What were Carrie’s top tips in how to get the most out of the site?
Quite simply – browse the threads as many subjects will have been raised before but don’t be afraid to post. If you have a burning question or just want to say “I’m struggling…” then post. Mumsnetters are great at reaching out – they’ve all been there
The great thing about Mumsnet is that it’s anonymous. You can ask things you wouldn’t ask your best friend or your mum in real life. Carrie’s tip – be open and be real…this will allow people to be real back. There is no judging and you can be who you want…. Surely the essential benefit of that true network?
What goals did Mumsnet have for the online community when they started?
Firstly to make parents life easy and secondly to allow Carrie, and her co-founder Justine, jobs that gave them work life balance and their ability to see their own children. Carrie has confirmed they have definitely achieved the first goal but the jury is still out on the second! Victims of their own success we asked?!
Carrie highlighted one area that networking was so important was childcare. When your childcare is right everything works great and everyone is happy. When your childcare support breaks down no job is worth doing. By reaching out to your network, in person through friends and family and the local community, to online communities such as Mumsnet, it helps you discuss, sound out and get advice on the right options for your family. It gives you the freedom to be a better parent…isn’t that what we are all striving for?
What was the best advice Carrie has been given in regards to networking?
Work out what matters most to you – both in regards to your personal life and your career. There is never one way to do it whether this be running a business, life or family so work out what you want and play to your strengths. We are always constantly searching for the next best thing but Carrie’s advice is to work out the most important and aim to get that. Then work out how best to do this.….we can’t have it all. Why do we ever think we can?”
Many thanks to Carrie for her time and useful insight into on-line networking.