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