Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2

Part one: Bridging between the web and the real world

This one is a real enigma, no matter what angle you approach it form you get an entirely different viewpoint and just when you think you’ve nailed it along comes somebody to spoil your party with a new twist in the tail.

What is it?

This is the fun bit, it is not at all unusual to follow a conversation on this subject for some time and see everyone nodding sagely in agreement only to discover later that they were all talking about different things, sometimes very different things. Even when I pointed this out recently to a group, they seemed unperturbed and continually agreeing what a wonderful thing “it” was as though I had been merely a figment of their imagination.

I recently started a discussion on networking on one of the social networks.  I have done this every year since 2004 and previously it had always been obvious to the users of the “online network “what I was referring to.  This time, it was not the case.  This time person after person steamed in to tell me how well they are doing out of ”networking” and when questioned, “networking”  covered every flavour of human communication from trade shows, to conferences, breakfast meetings, Facebook and Twitter and meeting your pals in the pub.

The thing that stood out in fact was the deliberate omission of online networking in the majority of answers and those who did mention it were rarely very positive.

Also significant for me was the volume of private messages I received that were negative about all forms of networking online and offline, but especially online. The negative comments about offline activity mostly focused on bad manners at events.

My conclusion was that there is no definition at all out there for networking and it basically means communication.  If you want to narrow it down and have a useful discussion then you have to enforce some rules very aggressively on the conversation.

 Based on responses so far, I am defining networking as: ” making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones for the purpose of gaining business”

This is not necessarily my definition, but this is as close as I could get to a consensus of opinion.

Define boundaries by agreeing  what it is not.

Many people responded to this with remarks to the effect that it is “not selling”. When probed, they defined selling as approaching a stranger and trying to sell them your product or service. I tried probing to discover why it was OK for the other networker to assume they were looking for business, but not OK for them to be up front about it.  I.E. Everyone at a breakfast meeting  is there because they want business and therefore they know why you are there, so why carry on a pretence, or why be scared to ask for business?  I found almost everyone evasive and extremely reluctant to pursue this discussion.

For the purpose of this discussion I am defining networking as:” making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones in the hope of getting business from them”

 

What is the demographic of networkers? And what can we learn from it?

This bit was very easy, over a five year period there has been no change at all in this and it is driven home by the owners of all the major online and offline social networks, the users of business and social networks of all kinds are self-employed people who work either alone or in very small companies and partnerships and these are primarily knowledge workers as opposed to artisans, or sellers of goods.

 The only exception to this on a fairly large scale is recruiters who dominate LinkedIn in particular and they only differ in that they work for large organisations, but act independently for the most part. They also differ in that they are actively targeting and approaching customers with immediate propositions.

The key piece of information in this, I believe, is that we have a large group of self-employed people who need to find themselves new customers from time to time, but have no sales , or marketing training or ability and suffer from  a classic sales phobia (over active cringe gland). Interim and contract agencies capitalise heavily on this market need.

Is anyone making any money out of it?

Linkedin have built a huge job board for passive candidates and they are making a fortune. Others online networks are doing well too, The likes of BNI are doing well out of it. 

Stories of people actually building up sizeable small businesses, let alone large businesses are pretty thin o the ground and when you challenge the claims, it is even hard to find many self-employed consultants that have earned considerable fees via online networks.

In terms of offline networking, then it is somewhat different.  Financial advisers and management consultants have always used referral selling as the number one source of new business. They sold intangible products that were bough on trust and these huge financial and consulting firms recognised the need to invest in building this trust, so they focused on building strong relationships with good customers and then asking for referrals.  The new “prospects” were receptive because a large part of the critical trust building had already been taken care of via the recommendation.

Professional firms continued to curt their big influential clients by inviting them to events networking with them. This still continues and generates the billions turnover in consulting business.

I do believe that, in a ham fisted sort of way, modern networking follows this same principal . I certainly believe that modern networking offers professionals the chance to achieve the same ends on a smaller scale, though the skills are still required and the training and back-up is missing.

In conclusion

The key to understanding modern networking is to realise that no two people are talking about the same thing they are mostly just talking and indeed that, for them is the end goal.

Hardly anyone is gaining very much from online networking and in many ways it is probably because it needs to mix with offline interaction on order to let people build trust before making business arrangements, but the role of online is steadily growing and in my personal view it will steeple some time in the next  ten years as the Facebook  generation become influential in the marketplace.

Offline networking is producing gains, but in truth it is far inferior form the professional networking carried out for two centuries by the best financial and consulting firms, it is suffering bad press due to rude predatory members and just like so many bartering clubs in the past, it falls foul of “too many sellers and no buyers” syndrome

 

 Next:

Are there really clear parallels between Soviralnetbusworks and Sales and Marketing theory?

 

 

 

How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle?

 

What is the right strategy for me?

Tim Berners Lee is on the money yet again.

There’s been some hype going around that the internet volumes are beginning to clog it’s arteries and that there are issues ahead.

TBL reacted to this by saying something to the effect that; the internet is not at risk form volume of information but volume of misinformation.

Let’s just think about that. There was a time, long before Google, when a tool called webcrawler claimed to index every document on the internet and as I recall, it went damned close. Today nothing can do any better than scrape the surface and what is more, there is little appetite for doing it.

It was incredible what you could find with a bit of patience back then. For me the quality lay in the surprise. I was exploring as opposed to searching. In those days surfing was something a few cool people did instead of watching Corrie. Nobody has time for surfing now though.

The novelty became the business tool, became the competitive advantage became the essential productivity tool in less than a decade. Not only do we not have time to explore for nuggets of knowledge and correspond with interesting knowledgeable people around the globe, we need filters to delete 80 % plus of our mail, we are trying to develop trusted networks to find people it is safe to talk to and our problem in finding the information we once only dreamed of, but now rely on for survival, is one of wading through the rubbish to get to it. I suppose this effort counts in that equation, but if you can’t beat them, well!
My point is this, if you don’t know something, or worse still you don’t know that you don’t know, then more information, data, or even knowledge is probably not going to help you and in fact, it is inevitable that before long you will find several contradictory experts.

So where did it go wrong?

Man’s access to and use of knowledge has always involved trusted sources, be they books, or advisers and when things were really important, second opinions were critical.
It was never important to be right, just to be trusted. All sources were expected to be wrong sometimes, but far better than no knowledge at all

My favourite description of knowledge is the one that says it is “to know”. That implies it is known by a person. In scientific terms it is often broken down into explicit, implicit, and tacit.

Let’s explore this concept for a moment;

Very little knowledge is explicit and it generally refers to hard data in my view, though some will argue otherwise.

The fact that john selected b as his favourite response out of abcd is explicit. It’s not much use though.
Let’s jsut assume that we all now what the context of absd was, 100 replies like this would make up a useful block of explicit knowledge.(data in my book)
What that information tells us (implicit knowledge) , may be that the males prefer B and the females D. However, an experienced researcher might spot the fact that it had nothing to do with gender but, was a result of colour blindness, or another aspect lost on the rest of us. (tacit knowledge)
At this point you have the full package and you are reasonably safe to make a decision of some sort.
My view and most business people would go along with me, that any less than the full pcakkage would be dangerous indeed.

If we follow that hypothesis and set these standards for knowledge and if we measure the internet in this way, there is an enormous need for reliable knowledge that combines at least the first two elements if not all three, in order to be truly useful as a source of knowledge.

So far we have succeeded in creating a few working proptypes of semantic modelling and inference engines that are capable of implying a level of information int the raw data out there, if and when we ever find a way to implement it.

Here are my questions:
 Where does the internet serve this need for knowledge?

Is it ever likely to get be achieved?

Is this need actually worth serving?

What would success look like?

Would more information or even more knowledge lead to better decisions with any degree of consistency?

Ed Taaffe