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Networking – dead as we know it?
by Janet Torley on 30/09/2011

Business Networking – we are all told that we should do it – most of us try it and there are some who are great at it but I put it to you that the face of business networking has changed irrevocably and the way we approach networking therefore has to change.

Why can I talk about this – well I have been involved one way or another for over 6 years now ‘on the scene’ and normally being an outgoing person by nature don’t find it a challenge.

In the olden days Networking was mostly about ‘joining’ a club, a Chamber of Commerce, an association, group, chapter…….in other words a fairly closed clique which needed your membership money and ongoing regular attendance to survive.  This model has served business communities for a long time very well.  Bonuses included speakers to educate, member deals to save money, business referrals and introductions etc.  But you still had to be part of a ‘group’

Formats varied with informal, ultra formal, regimental almost in some cases, but the basic concept of passing the business cards and elevator pitches were the cornerstone of business networking.  (In fact in recent times some of the formats have become ludicrous in an effort to be ‘different’ – I was waiting on Net Knitting coming up as just about every other hobby had been hi-jacked)  Then came along Bacon Eggs and Entrepreneurs in 2005’ish which broke the mould – everyone just turned up and “hung aboot ‘n’ blethered”  And business did get done – eventually – a much less targeted affair but introductions happened.  But this ground breaking model still needed membership dues to survive because it needed an infra structure behind to continue.

All the while, in the background a brand new phenomenon was building – Social Media was taking off and we were all told that we had to be on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook.  And a brave few did just that and look where it is now – most of us complain that we don’t have enough time for a Social Media strategy but we blindly get on the hamster wheel and post away like mad.  But people quickly found out that it is incredibly easy to get in touch with like minded people via these channels and relatively easy to advertise a get together.  Look at the ugly phenomenon of youngsters party gate crashing – post a party on Facebook and you are almost guaranteed that 100’s will turn up.  The days of formal invites to casual events are fading fast – society has changed. And I believe this has dripped into business – people no longer have need of an organisation to gather people together – just stick an event on Facebook etc and that will reach like minded people.  Business people will tweet and re-tweet about a happening now.  It’s the time of the pop up network meeting now.  No organisation needed therefore no background structure needed.

Time and travel are other major issues right now.  The cost of travel is rising unabated and I challenge anyone travelling 40 or 50 miles round trip to a network meeting now, that they don’t have a slight wince at the petrol pumps.  We are all having to work extra hard now and time is precious.  Again I challenge anyone setting off to a traditional meeting not to look at their watch and quickly calculate if they can afford the time out.

 Where does this leave networking then?  In my humble opinion we now have three options

  •  Pop up Networking – informal get togethers with no structure “hing aboot ‘n’ blether” over a coffee/glass of wine / beer / game of golf / pamper evening / knitting circle / groups with common interest
  •  Large events – such as Exhibitions and Conferences and dedicated Network Events where you can diary out a day well in advance and meet LOTS of people at once.
  • And of course – the Social Media Channels, whether by instant messaging such as Facebook and Linkedin or by Live Video links

Now I will stand by my PC and wait for the staunch defenders of all the different types of networking groups to tell me that I am wrong and pack up my trusty stop watch, bell and whistle ready for their move to new territory…..