Online Business Networking Sites: Are They Worth Joining?
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.
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 that 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.
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.Helpful 3
© 2018 Heidi Thorne