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Online vs Offline Networking
By Rob Brown

As a conference speaker on business networking, I am often asked about my thoughts about online networking. My answer is always the same. There is very little difference between a ‘live’ network and an online network. Both need time, effort and interest to make them work. Both yield good results if you apply a strategic approach to your use of them. Want to know how?

If you’re really going to understand this crucial area, you must have a look at How to Set Your Networking Goals. They will put a lot of meat on the bones of your networking. For now, it will help you to know that your networking strategy is concerned with the ‘who’ and the ‘why’, whereas your networking goals are concerned with the ‘what’ and the ‘where’.

There are many business and social websites, forums and platforms that support online networking. They all work in a slightly different way and all bring something good to the table to promote human capital and social capital. Like any network, you have to decide whether any particular one is worth an investment of your time, energy and money.

There is also the opportunity cost of ‘paying into’ a particular network. That is, by investing in this one, what other networks or activities am I preventing myself from investing in. You might have less time available to address any work-life balance issues, less time for other networks, less time for existing customers and clients, less attention to paperwork or admin and less time and money to throw at other avenues of profiling and business development.

Even within a network there are opportunity costs. If you choose a network to build up contacts, you’re foregoing any alternative networks that might give you business development opportunities. If you invest in a network that brings you business referrals, you may be missing out on other more social networks or building up your profile amongst your target market. Everything has a price in both online and offline networking, which is why you need a good strategy.

With the advent of YouTube, MySpace, Squiddoo and a host of other social networking sites, it is possible to build a particular and powerful online presence. With the hungry internet looking for ever more amounts of fresh content, you are in possibly the most exciting time in history to get your message out there.

With blogging, multiple web-site ownership, online article-writing and business networking sites like Ecademy, LinkedIn and Rise, you can be everywhere you’re not! All are fabulous tools in your business-building toolbox, providing you align your strategy to your goals and your goals to your route of implementation.

Despite that, many individuals and organisations are still not getting the message of how powerful online networking can be. Graham Jones, the UK’s top internet psychologist, says this:

“It seems that the most useful aspect of marketing that has appeared on the web for a decade, social networking, is the least likely to be used by companies. Now how daft is that? Social networking provides the online equivalent of word of mouth marketing - acknowledged by businesses worldwide as simply brilliant - and yet this is going to get the least take-up this year. It seems that businesses are being drawn in by the 'dazzle' of online video and therefore taking their eye off the ball of what they should really be doing - getting their customers to talk about them in social networking sites.”

Depending on your particular business, the ideal networking solution will be a mix of online and offline activities. Once you’ve decided on a strategy, your five point plan is identical for online and offline activities:

  1. Pick a Lane. Choose a network or medium you want to develop a presence in. Whether it’s social or business networking, choosing one will allow you to focus your efforts for a while.
  2. Take a Test Drive. Give it a few months. You can’t expect results in less. Invest and see what happens.
  3. Build Trust. You do this by thinking how you can help rather than what you can get. Get to know the medium and the people before you start selling and bragging.
  4. Stick Around. Very few networks are a one night stand. It’s about long term relationships, so be prepared for a long haul rather than a short hop to achieve your networking goals.
  5. Say When. Decide in advance what will be your criteria to measure success or failure of your networking. Then you can make an informed decision about whether it’s working for you or not.

What's not in doubt is the need to have a clear networking strategy. This is precious time away from your loved ones, your clients and customers and your other business development activities. Any network needs time, attention and even money to reap dividends.

Whether you choose to attend 'real-life' networking events, one or more online methods or indeed a mixture of both to meet your networking goals, you can get and give everything you need to make them work WITH A LITTLE THOUGHT!

So the recipe for networking success is simple - choose (the right strategy), commit (long term) and (make it) count!

Rob's Quick Tips

 

Here's a summary of what we've just covered. Both online and offline (real-life) networking...

  1. Are essentially the same. The only difference is that you can do one in your pyjamas!
  2. Require an investment of time, energy and possibly money.
  3. Can yield results if you play a long-term game and think 'help' before 'sell'.
  4. Will only work if aligned to a clear networking strategy aligned to strong networking goals.
  5. Need to be evaluated in terms of outcomes, investments and enjoyment. What you don't enjoy and get results from, you won't sustain.

A final tip. If you're thinking of committing or trialling a particular network, ask people you know and trust about their experience. It could save or gain you several precious months!

Added: 21st December 2010

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