Like nearly everything in life, there is a huge disparity between enthusiasts and experts. Simply put, think about how many people you know that are into football. Now think of how many people you know who are good at actually playing football. Networking isn't exempt from this reoccurring and universal illusion. There's a lot of cyber junk out there. The mainstream media, which is slow to pick up on online trends anyways, would have you believe there are at least 50 million power networkers out there making strategic alliances on the information super highway! This is a misleading concept. While there may be 50 million professionals taking up profile space online, only a small percentage of people, who are already talented at networking in the real world, will reap the benefits of online networking.
I'd like to share a few stereotypes I've noticed in the online networking world.
A. The Voyeur - Some network online as a form of entertainment, chatting with strangers and spying on estranged colleague's profile-pages to fill the gaps in their day. These people like to think of themselves as riding the wave of new social trends however, there is very little expectation for real-world benefits from their endeavors. These people make up the bulk of online networkers. They fall more on the all-consuming and rarely contribute meaningful content of their own. The effort is minimal therefore, the expectations should be too. To achieve this level of networking one merely needs to sign-up and start browsing.
B. Professional-Professional Networkers- Then there are others who actively, share, discuss, and contribute to networking sites. These networkers are the heart and soul of the website, often fulfilling important roles such as group leaders, forum moderators, and content creators. These people's true reward for networking is in the act itself. In the virtual world they're king however, if you find yourself asking the question, "They are on this site all day, how do they get any work done?" the answer may simply be that "they don't". As exciting as technology is, we haven't been able to add more hours to the day. That means spend two hours networking online and something's got to give... hopefully it's not your business.
C. The 500's - Know what it's like to have 500 close friends? I don't think anybody does either but some use business networking sites to develop a contact list that rivals the phonebook. These networkers will add just about anybody to their network, from the CEO of a company they've never heard of to their high school sweetheart's former dog -walker. The reality is that just because it says you are friends with someone on a webpage doesn't mean you have any juice. In fact, having so many contacts could make you a less effective networker. If I am looking for legal advice and I contact "Kevin" and tell him I am your acquaintance and he says, "Who the hell is that?", I might be better off knocking on doors than consulting your massive network. If having a massive contact list is your goal, grab some Joe and start clicking.
D. The Promoter- Just like the 500, the Promoter has a huge cache of connections. Unfortunately, if you happen to be one of these damned connections, you mind as well make friends with a billboard. The Promoter will use any free space to shamelessly advertise everything from their resume to their cousin's real estate listings. They often clutter your homepage and inbox with poorly constructed messages like, "Hey, how have you been? By the way, did you know that Dubai is one of the fastest growing real estate markets..." . I think you get the point.
Now before you get huffy or accuse me of being a "Professional-Professional Networker" remember, everyone falls into these unscientific but realistic stereotypes in one way or another. It's ok to occasionally browse a stranger's profile, but is there any other substance to your networking game?
Many new-comers go through a phase of spending hours online without asking the fundamental question, "For what purpose am I networking online?" While they usually start off with incredible fervor, many newbies will swear by networking.... for about two weeks. When they get bored of flipping through other people's profiles they come to the realization that online networking is just an extension of real-world networking; requiring time, talent and dedication. This is perhaps the reason why the number of dormant profiles will always outnumber the active.
With all of this skepticism let's not forget how powerful online networking can be. Because there are so many half-hearted online networkers out there, being good means an incredible advantage for the small but substantial group of talented networkers who strive everyday to perfect their art.
In the Web 2.0 world, bloggers often avoid making absolute statements. Unfortunately, playing patty-cake with every reader's potential insecurities is not the most helpful thing for the community at large so you can quote me on this-
"Before you network with a professional online, always call them up and let them know your game-plan. If you want to swap referrals as you come across clients who can use each other's services, let them know to accept your friend request. If this seems too frivolous or unnatural you should not be inviting that person in the first place!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you cannot think of professionals who you'd be comfortable calling and outlying an online networking strategy with, then you've got even more work ahead of you. Get out there in the real world and make some connections." - Christopher
Thank goodness the initial hype of online networking is starting to taper as the late-comers begin to realize the reality of befriending 500 strangers. Now that we have this new technology, let's combine it with what we already know and put it to good use.
Online networking cannot replace the time-honored strategy of developing a tight-knit real-world network as much as the telephone did not replace good conversation.
best, Chris of http://www.referralkey.com/
About Referral Key Launched in August 2007, Referral Key is a business networking utility that helps people manage their trusted referral relationships more effectively to increase sales, expand their professional network and differentiate themselves from their competition. Unlike other social or business networking sites that are focused on managing a vast number of professional contacts or have an asymmetrical benefit, Referral Key is a platform that encourages referrals to drive revenue and build stronger professional relationships. Anyone can sign up with Referral Key and interact with professionals they know in a trusted environment. Referral Key is a privately held company and is headquartered in Boston, MA.