Friday, December 03, 2004

Why Network?

Why Network?

Some of us are really dumb. I'm including myself in that group. I'm by nature or family indoctrination or childhood education one of the people who likes to join groups and to be an active member of those groups. For me the idea of the internet and listservers and chat rooms and social networking always made basic sense. But hundreds of hours online have not been productive in the way I imagined. As with many examples what happens on the internet is often confusing and counter intuitive.

20 years ago I was talking to a lawyer about the failure of my business to attract the right sort of clients. I was building my client base by door knocking, by face to face contact. That was working, but I was being invited to help mostly as a low cost accounting service, we were not dealing with the key issues of business structure, strategy and innovation. The lawyer said, "Are you approaching your clients, or do they approach you?" Of course I was approaching my clients. In his eyes that was a strategically weak position. When new clients approach you because you are the person many people recommend, you have a strategically strong position.

The value of networking is that over time you can develop a strategically strong position.

Networking Theories

Maximize Contacts: Many people involved in both face to face networking and in online networking believe that the numbers are important. When you first meet people, or when people first become known contacts, you can't tell if that will be helpful of not. This theory says, "since I can't choose the good or the bad contacts it's best just to accumulate as many contacts as possible. If one in 20 is likely to be "productive" in a business sense, then I'm better to have 10,000 contacts than 100 contacts.

Random Contacts: Thomas Power of Ecademy is very strong on the idea that "random contacts" have value. My expertise is in innovation. One of the realities of most innovations is an accident or a random event that allows the innovator to see what he or she couldn't see before. Even so, if you are planning to do something you try to make a plan and to act in a constructive and directed manner. Randomly casting about isn't likely to be most productive way to behave.

Making Sales: It seems so obvious that with a few million people online, that one should be able to "sell" things to these people. But in fact the power of online advertising and email marketing is weak. Not many of us have a product that has real value that we can effectively deliver "online". If your product can be more efficiently delivered locally and face to face, you probably have a competitor in the local market who is much better placed to make the sale than you can ever be. It's much easier to spam people and to offer products of zero or doubtful value to people than it is to offer products or services that have genuine value. "Free" has become a dirty word because it's been consistently misused on the internet. Despite the news to the contrary, online sales are not "taking off." Despite what you are told, "advertising online" is not a value proposition.

Expert Groups: One of the key reasons I have joined so many networks is to be part of many expert groups. In the early days of the Internet these groups were easy to access and very informative. Sadly These groups have become inactive or harder to access. Spam attacks killed the very useful Usenet system. Yahoo Groups were for a time very valuable, but lax security at Yahoo allowed the group mail addresses to be harvested by robots, and Yahoo groups members became the target of spam attacks. Today expert groups have largely become private. They are on university or government servers, or inside social networks like Ryze, or are perhaps operating as Yahoo Groups or Google Groups. These groups may not be available to the public. Many website's offer a bulletin board for user discussions, but these are usually poorly used.

Expert groups exist. Usually membership is free and open to peers, but unless you are a peer you are unlikely to know how to find and access that group. Peers openly and routinely share information and expertise with each other. But generally they charge other people for this sort of help, so if you arrive as a newbie, you will probably need to prove your status as a peer before you are accepted. You might be able join a list, but you become a member, when the existing members accept you as a serious voice. Most of the expert groups that were too public have gone silent.

Interest Groups: Many groups that look like expert groups are in fact mostly populated by wanabees. There may be peers of two types, the inexperienced and the experienced. Both groups tend to sit silent. The inexperienced not knowing what to say, and unwilling to expose themselves to adverse comment. The experienced looking to find and meet their real peers and not very interested otherwise. Most of these groups have limited amounts of mail and the quality of that mail is only fair to good. So how does that help? First it gives you a clear idea that the Internet is chest deep in newbies. When you get a letter that misunderstands an idea you know about, you can reply. Lift the quality of debate. Offer your own knowledge. In answering letters like this you often discover were your own growing knowledge lies. You don't learn much by mearly reading the posts of others. When you research and write your own post, you stand to learn a great deal. First you consolidate your own ideas, second you may get some feedback that will enlarge your thinking on that topic. Then you slowly establish your reputation among those who read the mail. Finally, you come to the attention of the few real experts in the group. When you are recognized as a peer you will be contacted by them. To succeed in networking you need to be proactive. Do things. Initiate activity. Take a stand.

Many people join social networks and make no progress as members. They simply don't know what to do. But H. Dean Hua, isn't like that. He joined Ryze and did all the right things. He was very active and built lots of contacts and an excellent reputation, but it didn't turn into immediate business. Here's what Dean wrote in December 2004.

When networking, don't expect too much
by H.Dean Hua

Regardless if you are networking online or offline, try not to expect too much from a meeting. Sometimes, you should just try to enjoy the journey before arriving at the destination itself. It's been said many times, but it takes time and trust to develop any sort of relationship with people. Trust is a high form of capital that many individuals don't have yet. But once you have gained it, you may well consider yourself to be very more ways than one.

That's my thought of the day.

Dean ~~ the financial quarterback

I understand what Dean is saying. I share that experience, but I've learnt so much, I can have no regrets. The problem is that what Dean and I have done takes too much time for too little result. So how can we network more wisely? More Tomorrow.

Veech Innovation Network

1 comment:

Lonnie Ellerbee said...

In the book 7 Habbits of Highly Effective people you will find the term interdependence. In short (team work) is the solution. How do you get that, by understanding the power of networking. Your article today was valuable because you spoke the truth. Thanks for that.

Lonnie Ellerbee