Initiating and Following Up on Encounters at Networking Events: A Theory of Planned Behavior Perspective

Seong Won Yang, Jungwon Lee, Giuseppe Labianca, Stephen P. Borgatti


Despite organizations’ effort to encourage cross-boundary relationships among its members by sponsoring various types of networking events (e.g., workshops, conferences), such events often fail to accomplish their goal to create new ties. Costly investments of time and effort with uncertain benefits, and negative feelings associated with networking in general, often discourage individuals from meeting potentially valuable others at organizationally-sponsored networking events and following up on those initial encounters to establish stable relationships. Drawing upon the Theory of Planned Behavior, we propose and empirically test micro-processes through which individuals initiate potentially valuable encounters and transform the initial encounters into full-blown relationships afterward. Specifically, we suggest that individuals’ relationship-building intentions formed at different stages of networking events play a crucial role in motivating them to actually meet certain alters at the event and follow up with the new acquaintances. We studied 245 high-potential ministers invited to attend a networking event designed to encourage cross-regional collaboration ties. The results showed that individuals were more likely to have a substantial interaction with someone when they had formed specific intentions to introduce themselves to those people prior to the event and shared more common third parties with the target alters. Moreover, among the new acquaintances met at the event, individuals were more likely to follow up with certain alters after the event when they formed stronger behavioral intentions to do so from their initial interactions. These results suggest the importance of people’s intentions as well as existing social structures in forming new relationships at organizationally-sponsored networking events. Our findings can contribute to designing more effective network interventions that promote cross-boundary tie formation.

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