Question asked: "Isn't a business relationship network the same as a social network. My quick answer: "No."
Longer answer -- A business relationship network in most cases represents the people we network with to advance our business goals. This network is made up of referral resources for business or position. Our bond is that I've determined you can help me achieve a business objective and you've determined that I might reciprocate in some career benefiting way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this type of networking. In fact I would argue that an attorney cannot succeed without some talent in this area.
A social relationship network represents the people we're connected to beyond the goals of a career or business objective. Our bond to people in our social network comes from feeling like they are someone we can relate to, and our friendship extends into self-image and identity.
It is possible that people from one network or another can move in and out of either.
Business relationship example: I know a service provider who is working hard to build his book of business. I have met with him a few times, compared clients, talked about whom we each know, and discussed how to make mutual introductions. Outside of knowing each others business goals and working that (mutually agreeable) benefit we have no other connection.
Social relationship example: I know a sales executive that rarely travels in my business circles. While he has been of some help with a few business connections and ideas I value him more as being a friend. I know his wife, spent time with his family and we share stories like two Boy Scouts at a campfire. The business benefit of the relationship is definitely less important than the friendship (yet a business and/or mentoring relationship remains).
The question came from someone wondering about the value of creating social networks inside, or outside, a law firm (see my last post). I believe it is part of the human experience to not only feel like we can be in a certain place, but to also feel like we belong. That is what social networking is all about -- to find people we relate to at a level more personal than just business.
When I have been able to enable social networks inside and outside of my firm for attorneys the return has been worth any effort.