A few years ago, I had a long conversation with a good friend who was considered a networking expert in Europe. He did a lot of work with online networking or social networking.
During this conversation, we got into a fundamental disagreement on the subject. He believed that networking was first and foremost a numbers game. He said that "the more people you were connected to the stronger your network."
At first, I went along with this comment agreeing that the number of people in your network was in fact, very important. I then said, "the only thing more important than the quantity of people was the quality of people in your network." Suddenly, our paths diverged. He said the "quality of people in your network are really not that important, instead it is all a numbers game."
To this day, I steadfastly disagree. Networking is not a numbers game. It's more like a people puzzle. It's about building relationships with the close people in your network. That means that it's about finding ways to interconnect the relationships you have to build a powerful personal network. In order to do that -- you actually have to have a fair number of quality relationships in that sea of contacts.
If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, it will never be successful. Instead, your network needs to be both wide and -- in places, deep. That is, you need to have a wide set of contacts but some of those need to be connections that go deep. Therefore, the quality of your network is just as important, if not more important than the quantity of your network.
This doesn't mean that quantity isn't important. It is important. A small network of quality people limits your success. However, a large network with multiple quality relationships makes for a much more powerful, personal network.
It is a little like your left hand and your right hand. Both are really important. But one is generally stronger, more powerful and generally used more than the other. You can't accomplish what you want as easily without both. However, one is the stronger hand. This is similar to the quantity vs. quality argument in networking.
It is not what you know or who you know -- it's how well you know each other that counts.
Strong relationships take simple "contacts" and turn them into powerful "connections." It doesn't really matter if I have an amazing database of people with many phone numbers. What really matters is how many of them will take my call if I can pick up the phone and ask for a favor.
By the way, since that argument a few years ago, my friend is no longer in the networking business. Quantity is good but quality truly is King.