An excellent article in this month's Australian Marketing Institute's Marketing Update newslettter which I thought was worth posting in full as I have exclusive rights and permission from the author!
Why you need to be using online networking
We're all familiar with the old cliché: "It's not what you know, it's who you know". Any business expert will tell you that networking is one of the best ways to better connect with customers, prospects and partners while advancing your career. What's new about networking is that it's just as important how you network as whether you network -- and the technology is now available to facilitate more efficient and effective networking.
With the emergence and rapid adoption of online networking sites such as Linkedin, networking has moved to cyberspace with sites now dedicated to bringing business people together via the Internet. What is online networking? It's the ability to identify, develop and manage social and business connections via the web.
A key benefit of participating in online networking is that you can take advantage of access to millions of people who are just a few clicks away from receiving an electronic message from anyone within the network. Online networks can provide business professionals with an unmatched flexibility to make connections, share information and post inquiries -- at any time, from any place, across the country and across the world. It is an application that allows businesses to get -- and stay -- connected to their prospects, customers and partners. So why online networking for business?
As a business, success and survival rely on promoting your business, meeting prospects, making contacts, building relationships, generating opportunities, nurturing centres of influence, joining communities of interest and closing sales. Just as prospecting, relationship and brand building, and networking take time in the real world, it's the same online -- only more effective and efficient. There are three basic focus areas within online networking that, if used effectively, give businesses a competitive advantage in managing their network of stakeholders. These areas are people, groups and expertise.
Linkedin (www.linkedin.com) boasts 25 million business professionals as members internationally, including 500,000 in Australia. Executives from all Fortune 500 companies are represented and, according to Linkedin, 46% are business decision makers. Having the ability to search this dynamic database of business professionals has obvious benefits for sales and marketing professionals. The tool allows you to search contacts by name, company and industry. Once found, you can view their self-compiled profile in their own words. What marketer or sales person would not want that level of profile information available to them in real-time before sending out an offer letter or meeting a customer face-to-face? In addition, once a customer, partner or prospect has accepted an invitation to join your network, you establish a visible online connection with that person.
This gives you the potential to better relate, communicate and exchange ideas, information and opportunities at a one-on-one level. In the business world, it's just as important to be able to find the right contact as it is to be found. Once you have completed your own public profile, users can find you through specialisation tags and profile searches. This enables others across the network with the ability to track you down to potentially utilise your skills, sell you something you value, establish a new connection or even offer you a job. Focusing on building a network and managing your connections is best summarised by senior recruiters when they advise that successful business professionals network when they have a job, not just when they need one.
Business networking is defined as the means by which individuals and groups connect for the common purpose of conducting business. An important feature of tools such as Linkedin is the ability to search for, join and even create groups with shared interests. Linkedin contains the most diverse groups of all types.
There are profession-based ones such as the Sales and Marketing Community, Linked HR, Linked Lawyers and the Top Executives Network (TEN); country-based such as Friends of India, Australia Network and the American Small Business Coalition; and initiative-based such as Online Lead Generation, Think Green, and Women for Women International.
Recently, the AMI launched its own group on Linkedin. By joining these groups, you can connect virtually to other group members, join discussion sessions, and share information and ideas. The ability to harness the different perspectives, experiences and skill sets of this collective in an instant and cost-effective way must be an essential resource to tap into for any business.
Establishing a broad network enables you to turn to different experts or groups, depending on your professional challenges. In February 2008, Bill Gates joined Linkedin and, shortly after, posted a question about what could be done to encourage young people to pursue IT and science careers. The question was posted on the site's Answers application, which allows a user on the network to ask a question that can be answered by any other user (potentially 25 million business professionals).
This is a classic case of the 'wisdom of crowds' application or the global equivalent of TV game show Millionaires Ask the Audience. Within two months, Gates had received 3,566 responses, which his army of staff could now be wading through to find the gold nuggets that can be pushed through various stages of implementation. Compare this with the recent Australian 2020 Summit, which had 1,000 'learned' specialists assemble in Canberra on a weekend to generate ideas for the future of Australia.
From a cost and efficiency perspective, it's a no contest. A senior IT marketing manager recently told me that she researched and surveyed her target market to develop her strategic marketing plan using Linkedin. In the context of living in an increasingly connected world, online networking platforms are essential to successfully conducting business. It's more than what and who you know -- it's how connected you are to people, groups and experts in the exchange of information, ideas or commercial value.