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Online Networks Still Lagging Behind Other Networking Efforts

what is business networkingAs part of the survey for the book, Business Networking And Sex (not what you think), my co-authors and I asked several questions that weren’t used in the final manuscript. The survey was open to the public and was conducted with over 12,000 business people from every populated continent in the world. One of the questions we didn’t use in the book was “What types of organizations do you belong to?” (Respondents could pick more than one organization).

We also asked a question that was used in the manuscript in various places: “Has networking played a role in your success?” We got some interesting findings when we cross-tabulated these two questions. We expected casual contact and referral networks to do fairly well, and they did. We were surprised, however, by some of the other results in the survey.

Online networks did very poorly, with only 27% of the respondents saying that networking has played a role in their success! Women’s business organizations did even worse, with 17.7%; and service clubs came in last, with only 17.2% of the respondents saying that networking played a role in their success.

Face-To-Face Preferred

What does this mean? Overall, people who got the most results from their networking efforts seem to participate in “face-to-face” casual contact networks such as a Chamber of Commerce, referral networks like BNI and, to a lesser extent, professional associations (such as any professional body or society representing a particular industry), while the success of online networks, women’s business organizations, social/business groups and service clubs rated very low.

Even though they didn’t fare well in this survey, I’m actually quite an advocate of online networks, women’s business organizations, and service clubs – and I will continue to be so. I thought about the results of the survey, and why these groups received such low percentages compared to casual-contact and referral networks.

I’m inclined to believe that the women’s organizations and service clubs didn’t do as well because each has another important purpose that takes precedence over networking. Women’s business organizations often provide a place where members both support and educate each other. The mission of service clubs focus primarily on providing service to the community, with networking opportunities being more of a “by-product.” With groups like these, tangible success in members’ networking efforts is much more subtle, and that may be one of the main reasons why they didn’t do as well in the survey.

Because I was really surprised by the results, I spent a lot of time thinking about online networks and their disappointing standing in the respondents’ ranking of successful networking efforts. The results are in line with a comment that I hear quite often by business owners who have begun to market their businesses via the growing number of online social and business networking sites: “I’ve got a profile page and a thousand connections…now what?”

Many entrepreneurs jumped on the “social media marketing” bandwagon and spent a lot of time and effort building their online social capital (through LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends and “likes”, and Twitter followers), but without an actual plan of how to turn this growing number of contacts into actual customers. This is one area many entrepreneurs struggle with as online networking continues to come into its own.

Another issue is that the addition of Internet marketing (including online networking) has exponentially increased the number of marketing messages that the average person sees each day – to literally tens of thousands. While online – whether chatting on Google Talk, or looking at friends’ photos on Facebook, watching a celebrity’s Twitter feed, learning about a connection’s promotion on LinkedIn, reading a blog for business or pleasure, or doing an internet search – a person is inundated with countless entreaties such as:

Read this!

Buy this!

Try this!

Connect with me!

Like my business!

It’s easy to get distracted by these messages, particularly because those who have the time, staff, or money to put out the most messages tend to drown out any messages from smaller businesses or single individuals also trying to get their messages to be “heard.”

As I’ve already mentioned, I like online networking. We may someday figure out how to make it work even better; however, the results are the results and – still a surprise to me – they’re not very good. I certainly don’t think that entrepreneurs should stop finding ways to improve their success in the online networking arena. However, as we have learned in our recent multi-national study, online networks still have a way to go before they can begin to compete with the effectiveness of the more traditional, face-to-face networking opportunities available.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.

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One Response to “Online Networks Still Lagging Behind Other Networking Efforts”

  1. Dave Young January 27, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Ivan, creating good quality content that people are willing to share with each other is key. I’ve found over the years, that it works best when it’s in the authentic voice or hand of the speaker. No ghostwriter can capture it. Podcasting is a great way to come across as genuine and authentic, especially when it’s done in an interview format instead of an oratory format. Creating content this way gives you loads of words to repurpose as well. About 150/minute. A 10-minute podcast done weekly will give you almost 80,000 words in a year. That’s a book!

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