Monday, November 27, 2006
MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, Ryze, ecademy, Hoovers Connect and countless other social networking services are all the rage. The number one question I get when I give a speech on networking is what I think about the online tools now available. My answer is that they are just that...A Tool. Online networking is not the same thing as face-to-face networking. When adding someone to your online community it does not make them your “instant friend”. Real friendships are developed over time and require the discovery of mutual interests and shared experiences.
Many people who do not enjoy the whole concept of networking will often look to these sites as the magic bullet to building relationships. They look at their number of contacts and feel confident that they are doing a good job of creating a network. This may or may not be the case. Just because you have a digital link does not mean that the other person will have your best interest at heart. It is very difficult to know someone by reading his or her profile. Working in the same industry of having similar interests is not enough for the basis of a strong mutually beneficial business relationship. It does not work that way for online dating, and it does not work in the professional world either.
Some people in the online networking world will mistakenly view the quantity of connections as the important element. These people will invite hundreds (if not thousands) of people to join their networks without ever having met them. I have made it a policy that I do not link to anyone that I have not met personally (or had multiple email or phone conversations). When I speak to businesses on the topic of networking I will often get invitations to join the network of those in the audience. Even if I talked to the person after the presentation, I usually refuse these connections, as meeting someone at a seminar and having a short chat does not make them my friend or business associate. It is my belief that having lots of links to those that you do not really know deletes the power of your network.
Since members of these online communities are not pre-screened or educated on the purpose of the service, you have no way of knowing the goals of people whom you might encounter. Just because someone has a profile on one of the social networking sites does not mean they welcome everyone on the planet to contact them. Just as when you meet someone at a face-to-face event, you need to follow proper the steps to begin a conversation. Do not assume you have the right to call on them because you stumbled upon them online.
The Internet has changed, and will continue to chance, the way we do business. It can be an incredible tool for you to use in your efforts to build your network. The access that you now have to people in your local geographic area or across the globe is unprecedented in history. However, since people do business with people they know and like, you must remember that “knowing” and “liking” someone on a personal level requires continued contact and interaction.
You might “know and like” celebrities like Tom Cruise or a political leader (Bill Clinton or John McCain?), but they most likely not part of your network. The same is true for random people you might discover through online services. Reading a profile and sending an email is not equal to a multi-year, mutually beneficial friendship.
Have A Great Day.