When I recently presented a business networking workshop for the San Francisco Small Business Administration (SBA), a participant asked me about my thoughts on online networking. It's a great question that's rarely asked, so I wanted to share my response in this article.
I think online networking is not very different from offline or in-person networking.
Both are good tools or platforms to help you reach your goals. And in both cases, what you get out of it depends on how you use it.
Still, I think there are some distinct advantages to online networking.
- Online networking platforms provide a centralized repository to store your contacts.
Once you “connect" with someone through an online networking platform, their contact information is automatically added to your “network". You don't have to take an extra step to file or scan in their business cards like you have to do when you collect physical cards.
- You can see your contacts’ information or profile easily.
This is a really useful feature, because it's not possible to remember all the details about a person, even when you know them well.
Also, as time passes, people's profiles change. So assuming they update their online profile, it's a good way to keep current.
- You can find specific people and make new contacts more quickly.
This is the ultimate benefit. Having the profile details of people in your network stored in a central location (besides your brain) comes in handy when you're searching for someone or something in particular, because you can easily search for and find specific information or people, using the search capabilities of the online networking platform.
And although none of them was in my direct network, many of them knew the same people I did. So all I had to do was ask for introductions.
As you'll probably notice, these are all “technical" benefits (no surprise, since we ARE talking about using technology!).
This means that building relationships with the people in your online network is still your responsibility. Technology can only do so much, after all.
Also, this assumes that you know what you're looking for, and can ask for it clearly - which is basically the foundation, whether you're networking online or in-person.
(c) Copyright 2006, Srirupa Dasgupta
Srirupa Dasgupta is the author of Effortless Networking: Everyday Wisdom to Transform your Business and Life . She helps small business owners, entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals build, sustain and leverage the professional and personal network that is necessary to succeed. For more information, visit her website at http://www.EffortlessNetworking.com