The Power of Networking in the New Economy

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, or so the saying goes. Few people would refute that or the fact that networking can boost our careers. In fact, networking can take us to places we can barely imagine.

However, in the age of the fast-paced, non-standard gig economy that relies heavily on temporary positions, we need a new framework for understanding networking. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted work as we know it and accelerated the rise of the gig economy, work had shifted towards the short term, atypical arrangements such as freelance contracts and freelances.

In the creative industries, where value of the practitioner’s work is not easy to define and consumer demand is generally uncertain, jobs are often on a contractual and precarious per project. Models, film directors, musicians, publishers, graphic designers and others took gigs before the term was even popularized. Today, freelance contracts are common in both white collar and pink collar industriesand even in high profile areas like entertainment and information technology.

Changing the tides, changing the bonds

In the sociology of labor and markets, social capital is an influential concept. Studies have confirmed the role of the social link shape, restrict and promote opportunities in the labor market. Traditionally, the value of a tie is determined primarily by its strength – defined by the duration of the relationship, its emotional intensity, its intimacy and its potential for reciprocity. However, popular conceptions of social capital have not kept pace with workplace transformations. Most studies are based on standard employment in formal organizations and over a long period of time.

Social media analysis of the creative industries can yield interesting insights into today’s networks. A creative practitioner’s network can build reputation and name recognitionjust like theater actors benefit from sharing the stage with a celebrity. Beyond status signaling, networks are a source of camaraderie and community support for professionals in more precarious employment. In effect, anthropologists share found be a common social response to precarious conditions.

Fashion models exemplify independent entrepreneurs in a rapidly changing market marked by fierce competition, global mobility and high turnover. During their work, models travel to fashion markets around the world for short-term jobs. Before the pandemic, for example, some 3,000 to 5,000 models converged on New York Fashion Week each year. These models come together at fashion shows, bond and leave in quick succession.

Are stronger links better?

Throughout the world of modeling, our study, to be published in Social networks, explored the practical implications of the rapidly formed and ephemeral social bonds established through recurring projects. We assessed whether such links can boost careers. We introduced the concept of “transient ties” to capture the recurring, brief, and valuable social ties that exist between arm’s length ties and strong ties. – like the relationships forged in the public space or between taxi drivers and passengers. Transitional ties, although not a new phenomenon, play a prominent role among informal workers today.

We studied networks among models through ethnographic accounts of fashion shows and castings in New York and London and tested the effects of transient ties using a unique longitudinal dataset of career profiles from models spanning a decade. We examined contextual factors leading to transient bond formation and considered broader network effects that may influence models’ careers. With these, we mapped out the career consequences of transient ties in modeling.

In this study, we questioned the importance of time in defining bonds, and more specifically, whether duration, emotional intensity, intimacy, and reciprocity align linearly. Beyond the strength of a bond, we looked at how brief, fleeting relationships can produce meaningful results – a shift that reflects the transformation of the labor market from organization-based work to projects.

Connections that matter

The results showed that transient ties have great practical importance for models, from sharing information to learning through role modeling, attracting caretakers’ attention, and even signaling status. Regardless of a model’s status, media coverage, or affiliation with fashion houses, transient networks have a huge influence on a model’s career success (measured by the number of runway shows a model has made ).

Additionally, we described how the network ecology of transient ties shaped career outcomes. For example, a budding role model’s chance of success increased linearly as she moved from the periphery to the core (initiate) group, but the effects diminished when she was very close to the core of the network.

For gig economy workers to continue to thrive, we need to foster more opportunities for networking and information sharing among them. Understanding the value of transitory ties and the nature of these networks could encourage labor market actors to help each other to densify their networks and obtain mutually beneficial results.

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