Online Business Networking Sites: Are They Worth Joining?

Updated on January 15, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

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Not another one! Another day, another email in my inbox that has a subject line similar to “So-and-so has invited you to connect on such-and-such online business networking site (e.g., Ryze, Alignable, Refer, etc.).” I often truly know, like and trust the people who have sent these invitations. But I promptly send these invites to my Trash folder.

As someone who has been pretty active over the years in networking, why would I decline an invite to connect?

What is an Online Business Networking Site?

An online business networking site is a service that seeks to connect viable networking partners with each other via an online platform. Some may operate more like directories of sorts. Others may offer more tools to create conversation and deeper connections. But the primary incentive for joining is to get referrals for your business.

The one thing that distinguishes many of them from standard offline, in real life networks is that there is usually no meeting requirement to use the service. However, that doesn’t preclude people from setting up meetings with other members, or the network host from holding special events for members.

Membership in these networks may be free, or there may be a freemium and paid version. Those that are completely free may be supported by advertising, sponsorships, or affiliate links.

Challenges of Online Business Networking Sites

No meetings required, low or no cost, the ability to add new people to your network easily, and possibly getting referrals... sounds like a great deal, right? Well, as with the rest of life, everything works in theory, but you need to understand the landscape.

Would You Refer a Stranger?

You may only know other network members from their profiles. Plus, these online networks may do little or no vetting of members. So you’ll have to do your due diligence and outreach as you would with any other connection in regular networking opportunities or social media.

True referrals and connections are not automatic, and usually based on long-term associations. Don't expect the impossible.

People May Be There Just to Get, Not Give

Promotions for these networks may tout the network’s ability to help you get business. There is no doubt that most members who sign up are looking to get business, not give business. They’re not bad people; they just need to get a positive ROI from their participation.

Like the aggressive Instagram folks trying to build their followers with follow/unfollow tactics, there will be a strong temptation for some members to “connect” with a large number of network members simply to promote themselves.

Compare this to leads groups (e.g., BNI, LeTip) that require members to bring leads and referrals for other members, or risk being dropped from the group. There’s an incentive to be looking out for the betterment of other members.

Geography Covered

One of these groups promotes that you’ll get to know other small businesses in your immediate community. This would be suited for a business who offers products and services to the local community on either a B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) level, e.g., insurance agents, real estate sales, hair salons, restaurants, etc.

But for a business like mine, I don’t care who’s doing business in my neighborhood. If I only had only my locals as prospects, I’d starve since I have a very niche service. My customers span the entire country, with an occasional international customer.

Understand the geographical focus for whatever network you're considering. This is no different than what you would consider for an offline, in-person network.

Redundancy

This is my biggest issue with these networks, and why I have refused invitations: Redundancy.

I had to laugh when I saw networks suggest that members need to promote their membership on social media. Um, shouldn’t your social media profile already be clear about who you are and what you do, along with your contact information?

As I looked at some sample profiles on these networks, I noticed that the profile information was very similar to what would be already on LinkedIn, currently the top business online social network as it has been for years. Why would you want to duplicate what’s on your LinkedIn profile on yet another, maybe lesser known, network? Then you need to make sure that all of these profiles are continually updated so that they all match.

Plus, I'm often already connected—either online or in real life, sometimes in multiple venues—with the people who have invited me to connect on these sites.

It's all so redundant! As I've discussed in the past, you do not have to be on every network. Just the ones that offer the most benefit to you and your business.

If It's Free to Join, Why Not?

If these networks are free to join and participate, why not add another network that could provide a referral? Well, it takes time to maintain profiles and participate on any online platform. Think of how much time you already spend on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. for your business. Remember, even if joining an online business networking site is free, your time and energy are not.

Remember, even if joining an online business networking site is free, your time and energy are not.

— Heidi Thorne

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • What are some of the best free business networking sites you have run across?

    Wish I had a list of network sites I could recommend. But, honestly, the only one I've found useful is LinkedIn. Many of the others are just not strong enough (either in terms of numbers or functionality) to warrant my investment. People get so excited about these new networks that pop up, thinking they will be the Holy Grail of networking they're seeking. Then when they get overwhelmed with having to manage too many networks, they become less active, even inactive, and they go back to LinkedIn.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne

Comments

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  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 months ago from Chicago Area

    Natalie, I have to agree. There have been some less than optimal networking that I've done that has uncovered some valuable connection, too. Thanks for adding that insight to the conversation! Have a great day!

  • Natalie Frank profile image

    Natalie Frank 

    7 months ago from Chicago, IL

    There are so many options for networking, marking, connecting with others around needs, purpose and function it's always great to get a reminder to look into new things. Even if they do turn out to be a waste of time, are not free as advertised or the free version is a foot in the door for paid tools or doesn't control people joining who just want to get instead of give, every so often you will find something that is worth it. Thanks for the article.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    7 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Shaloo! So sorry to hear that you lost money from being on one of these sites. :( But I think that serves as a great reminder to thoroughly evaluate all of these sites, even if they just waste your time.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and have a lovely day!

  • swalia profile image

    Shaloo Walia 

    7 months ago from India

    I once tried it, lost money and since then have stayed away from them.

  • Miebakagh57 profile image

    Miebakagh Fiberesima 

    8 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

    Hello, Heidi, I appreciated your comments. Thanks. And, enjoy the day.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hello, Chitrangada! Glad to see that I'm not the only one who's noticed that these sites have just seemed to spring up from everywhere these days. Also glad to see that you're making a choice that preserves your time and energy.

    Appreciate you stopping by and sharing your experience with us! Have a beautiful day!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hello, Miebakagh! I agree that LinkedIn is my choice for more authentic connections than other sites. So I'm sticking with that for the time being. I agree that it's wise to just watch how it goes on any other site, and then make a decision about continuing.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Have a great day!

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 

    8 months ago from New Delhi, India

    Great, informative article!

    I am aware of these online sites, which have mushroomed overtime. People must be getting benefits from them, but I haven’t tried to be a part of it. The reason, you have already pointed out, in the quote at the end.

    But thanks for the education on this topic. Have a good day!

  • Miebakagh57 profile image

    Miebakagh Fiberesima 

    8 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

    Hi, All, One of the safe sites I realize is www.linkedn.com/ I can connect with a friend Iknow from facebook.com/ But Facebook had its many problems like any other site scammers!

    Recently, a friend on Facebook invited me to join a business network site. I accepted the invitation and join. I am just only a month and watching. That will tell me either to stay put or quit the site to make passive income. Thank you.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Linda, since you and I are active on multiple social networks, we're both very aware of the true investment yet another site can take! I know I've become more discriminating over time. Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful day!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Liz, you're not alone on both time and security issues! I tend to ignore most invites unless I really know the person through other venues. But, for me, the time to get going and active on lesser known sites is just not worth my energy.

    Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    You've raised some great points in this article, Heidi. I love your quote at the end. The time and effort required to fully participate in a networking site are very important factors to consider.

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    8 months ago from UK

    Your reference to time constraints rang bells with me. I also wonder about the security of some of these sites and the checks made on people joining. We hear too often of people masquerading on the internet using fake identities. Maybe I am becoming a little too paranoid.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, I'm so out due to the redundancy factor! If I didn't personally know a lot of the folks sending these invites, I'd probably send them to the spam folder, too.

    Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a beautiful weekend!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    8 months ago from USA

    The redundancy factor would turn me off as well as the time involved. If there's no value add and it wastes my time, I'm out. Thankfully, I don't get these requests. If I did, I'd probably spam them.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Lovelli, some great points!

    Agreed, the learning curve for some of these sites can be quite an investment. Then, if the site falters, you've wasted that investment. That's why I choose to stick with some of the more established platforms such as LinkedIn.

    I do see a point in having different profiles for different sites. This would especially be the case if the sites address dramatically different markets. Then it's almost a necessity to be different. But on very similar sites (e.g., LinkedIn and Alignable for example), it's a duplication of effort.

    Thank you so much for adding that perspective to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, you have cultivated so many relationships already! At some point, it just becomes overwhelm and you have to take the stance of being a celebrity with followers. :) Plus, I agree, either you're all in or all out, but decide.

    Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Miebakagh! Thanks for pointing out the issue about scams. That's another reason to thoroughly investigate these invitations before automatically accepting. Appreciate you stopping by and have a wonderful weekend!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    8 months ago from Olympia, WA

    I see their value, if one has time to cultivate relationships. This boy does not, so why do it half-assed? :)

    Wishing you a brilliant Saturday!

  • Miebakagh57 profile image

    Miebakagh Fiberesima 

    8 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

    Hello, Heidi, thanks for the article and the useful information it provides. I remember the time I was invited to connect with someone I did not know. Nonetheless, I was nearly a scam. So, I left the site. At another time, I refused to connect and wonder how they got my identity. Now, I am wise enough for all that. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lovelli Fuad profile image

    Lovelli Fuad 

    8 months ago from Southeast Asia and the Pacific

    Another issue that I observe with online business networking sites is "stagnation", which you've also covered in one of your hubs. With these networking sites, the platform takes a lot of getting used to. After a while, people just got bored and leave. Similar profiles is a challenge, too, but I actually prefer having different profiles for different networking sites - they may mean different things to different people. Even different profile pics can make you look like entirely different people, right?

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