It's something you should never see, IMHO, but more about that later.
I spoke at a Career Day last week, and the topic of networking came up. The students didn't know what it was, but since I shared the stage with a newspaper reporter, we explained how we reciprocate in helping each other. I give her interviews that hopefully pull in readers. I aslo buy advertising space in her paper. She gives me publicity that should result in name recognition and book sales. Neither of us views the other as merely a profit opportunity.
Since I started trying to get published, I've made lots of contacts in the business: authors, editors, agents, reviewers, media people, and fans. Each of them has the potential to help my career, often in ways I can never foresee. For example, a friend from church bought my first book, liked it, gave it to her daughter, who liked it and passed it on to her husband. He liked it, too, and knew a reporter from a newspaper in a much larger town than mine, so he passed it on to her. She liked it and called me for an interview. That's how it works. Anyone who hears about a writer and has good things to say becomes a possibility for broadcasting that news to others. The net expands over time.
I always keep in mind, however, that a network is made up of people. To me, they're friends or at least acquaintances that I would help if I got the chance. I don't cultivate them with the idea that they can further my career, and I do my best to serve their needs, whether it's for a good book to read or a mention in one of my author talks or a professional attitude in work relationships. As I said at the beginning, networking should not be obviously seen. It comes from an understanding that we need to work together, and not just think, "Hey, here's a live one!"