Monday, March 31, 2008

The real power of online networks lies......offline

An interesting combination of statistics stands out from the Ecademy survey released today. Over half of the respondents (56%) state that they get less than 10% of their business through online networking, with only just over 10% getting 50% or more from that source. At the same time, nearly 40% of members get over 50% of their business through offline networking.

Nothing unusual about that, you may think. After all, it would be fair to suggest that it is easier to generate business through offline networks, where you meet fellow members face-to-face, than an online network such as Ecademy. It is much more difficult to build personal relationships virtually after all.

The interesting stat comes further down the survey. The vast majority of respondents never attend any of the offline networks listed, with Chamber of Commerce faring best (41% of members attend sometimes, 59% never do) but most other networks failing to attract a sizeable majority of members who replied to the survey. So, where does the offline business come from?

Now, I'll put my hands up now and admit that I'm not a mathematical genius nor an expert in analysing such surveys. There may be a very clear statistical explanation for this apparent anomaly. If there is, I'm sure someone will point it out for me! I prefer to look for an explanation elsewhere, looking at what makes networking effective.

As I mentioned earlier, business networking is far more powerful when you can build relationships in person. Ecademy is a fantastic tool for building your profile and initiating new relationships. In my experience, however, the best relationships, and most likely opportunities for business, come when you get to know each other away from the online platform.

I was asked today how I make membership of a network like Ecademy pay. The site helps me to build my profile and the reputation for my expertise. Without doubt, however, any direct referrals for business have predominantly come from people I have taken the time to meet and build a relationship with. This is where the power of BlackStar lies, with members constantly meeting with each other. There are probably 1-2-1s between BlackStars every day of the week, and a lot at weekends as well.

To be truly effective, online networks should be treated as a means to an end, not the end itself. Somewhere to both initiate and manage relationships, where the relationships are developed in person, face to face. I believe that this explains the discrepancy in these statistics, people have made the connections online but converted the business by networking person.

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