Man Who Coined the Term “Networking” Steps Forward

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In a 1985 news article, telecommunications expert and consultant Bill Lewis was the first person to use the term “networking” to describe connecting people in order to build a business network. Now, Lewis plans to take credit for coining the term, perhaps the most recognizable addition to the American vernacular in modern times.

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Bill Lewis

It would be interesting to hear from anyone who remembers the first time they heard the term [networking] used on television, or the first time they saw it quoted in an article.

It’s a term that has been a part of the American zeitgeist for more than two decades, and Jacksonville entrepreneur Bill Lewis – the man who coined the term "networking" back in 1985 – says he is still amazed at its popularity.

In a 1985 article on cutting telephone costs to consumers, Lewis, a self-described problem solver, is quoted utilizing the term “networking” to describe multi-level selling and its capacity to build a large customer base. Then the executive director of the American Consumers’ Telephone Association (ACTA), Lewis had no idea that his adjective for developing contacts in order to form business relationships would take off and become one of the late 20th and early 21st century’s primary buzz words worldwide.

While sifting through a box of newspaper articles that pay homage to his multi-faceted career – Lewis is an author and inventor with a background in marketing, real estate, telephone and cellular communications – he recently came across the article in which he was the first to use the term “networking” and decided to claim responsibility and accept recognition for coining the term once and for all.

While researching the issue, Lewis said that his own questions raised a new one: how does one prove or disprove their role in coining a phrase?

“If you Google the phrase ‘coined the term networking,’ you will find everything but the right answer,” Lewis says. “For instance, in one of the Google ‘hits’ you will find that it has been attributed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but there doesn’t seem to be any written or published proof to back that claim.”

Lewis's biography places him in an arena ripe for the pioneering technology language and business models that are taught and practiced today. After his honorable discharge from the U.S. Marines in 1963, Lewis joined IBM at a time when “network” was the term used to define a connection of computers.

Two decades later, Lewis was able to visualize the benefits of connecting people to expand a business network. The term “networking” was born out of his need to define the practice – by the 1980’s, growing in leaps and bounds thanks to rapid advances in technology – into a one word descriptive with an easily recognizable meaning.

“When I was at IBM in the mid 1960’s, ‘network’ was a computer term,” Lewis says. “The difference between a ‘computer network’ and people ‘networking’ is very specific.”

Today, the term “networking” has taken on a life of its own, used to define a form of socialization within businesses and professional associations that connects people with similar or complimentary goals. It has also become the catch-term for online networking sites, (better known as social networking sites) like Facebook and Twitter, that are used by people throughout the world to stay in contact with friends and family, as well as to report real time events as they happen, to American and international audiences.

For instance, in October, 2010 ESPN Sports Guy columnist Bill Simmons “accidentally” leaked via Twitter news of the NFL’s decision to trade Randy Moss from the New England Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings, a mistake that landed Simmons in hot water since the unconfirmed news hit 1.3 million followers of Simmons’ Twitter social networking account and other sports journalists, instantly.

By surfacing now to claim recognition for coining the term “networking,” Lewis says he simply wants to clarify his role in its adaptation to today’s business, professional, and social vernacular and take credit where credit is due.

“The truth is the truth,” Lewis says. “But I invite people to challenge me on this,” he added.

“I think it would be interesting to hear from anyone who remembers the first time they heard the term used on television, or the first time they saw it quoted in an article.”

The proof, Lewis says, is in paragraph two of an article titled Consumer Group Forms to Cut Telephone, Cellular and Other Communicartions Costs, written by Stuart Crump, Jr., and published in a 1985 edition of ”Personal Communications Report,” published by FutureComm Publications, Inc. in Williamsburg, Connecticut.


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Liz Ernst, Public Relations Consultant

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