(StatePoint) In this tight economy, it doesn’t matter if one is a professional looking for work or a small business owner looking for customers, it all boils down to the same thing — networking with the right people to get ahead.

New Internet sites now are springing up to help professionals do this — and they go beyond connecting users with friends like such social-networking Web sites as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. These new business sites help people make new connections and move them from the online world to the real world where they can help the most.

Stanford University sociology professor Mark Granovetter recently conducted research that supports the value of making new connections. He found that between 50 and 70 percent of new jobs are discovered by reaching out to people job seekers only know vaguely. According to him, these people have access to information that close friends and family don’t.

«I call it ‘the strength of ‘weak ties.'» Granovetter told «Stanford Magazine.» «People find jobs through people they don’t know so well.»

Users don’t have to be tech savvy to benefit from these services either.

Recently launched MeetingWave (www.MeetingWave.com) lets members build their circle of acquaintances by posting invites to meetings. Members can post an invite to see who is looking to meet near where they live or work. Users also have the ability to respond to invitations and postings from others.

MeetingWave’s John Boyd noted on the service’s blog that «the point about networking is that every new business or social relationship starts with two or more strangers meeting.»

For job hunters, services such as these can be invaluable. They can learn about opportunities in their hometowns, find out more information about prospective bosses, introduce one person in their network to another, ask questions or build their reputations by answering other’s questions, or just post their profiles in the hopes that someone reaches out to them.

Store owners and small businesses also can tap into these services. They can contact each other for ideas about attracting new customers. They also can reach out to customers directly, making advertising and promotion much faster and receiving feedback quickly.

Small businesses and shops that establish such a presence also provide their customers with another way to hear about or get through to their businesses.

Online social networks, once reserved primarily for informal social networking, quickly are becoming a primary resource for job hunters and people who want to grow their businesses.

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