Business Networking Systems, Dead Already? Hardly

I don’t know if it’s just the business networking sites don’t spend enough on advertising with Ziff-Davis or if it’s just that cynicism seems to sell magazines, but following in the footsteps of Brad Howarth’s article, John Dvorak has decided to take a ride on the cynicism train and asks, “Business Networking Systems, Dead Already?

Not hardly. Here’s my rebuttal:

Let me ask you one simple question, John:  what would it take to convince you otherwise?

I ask because my personal experience has been otherwise.  And so has the experience of the 1,000+ people on my Ryze network, and the several hundred people I communicate with regularly on Ecademy.  And countless contacts on LinkedIn.

The reality is that these sites are working for people — not for everyone, but definitely for those who take the time to learn how to use them correctly.  In the process of researching our upcoming book, we have collected hundreds of online networking success stories, big and small, and across a variety of industries.

There’s the copy editor who now gets 80% of her business from Ryze; the VC who got a Director position across four degrees (and the Atlantic) on LinkedIn; the New York Times bestselling author who’s currently lining up European training partners via Ecademy; the marketing expert who generated over $20,000 in revenues – product sales, teleclasses, etc. – directly attributable to his Ryze contacts (actually, there are half a dozen of these); the serial entrepreneur selling product management software and services who did four deals in six months via Ecademy – the fastest he’s ever started generating cash flow out of his five successful startups.

This isn’t media hype or doctored testimonials — these are real people doing real business on these sites.  I know them.  I’ve talked to them.  I’ve advised some of them.

Instead of saying that they don’t work because they didn’t work for you and a few colleagues and readers, how about exploring the actual facts?  I’d be more than happy to send you a copy of our manuscript, John, and you can see for yourself just how these social networking sites are working.

Fritz made a good point:

We are social beings that have been sold a bill of goods about how more is better.  It is better to have just a few good friends, maybe none (for a short while), rather than many as was assumed by these sites.  If you cannot get a “friend” to pick you up at the airport, then they are too busy to have friends.

However, it’s not the social networking sites themselves that have created the “more is better” illusion — it’s the users, for the most part.  If you look, for example, at LinkedIn’s guidelines, and all of their marketing, they don’t push a “more is better” approach.  In fact, they encourage people to connect only with people with whom they’ve actually worked.  The “more is better” thinking is a creation of the users.

But it’s also not as simple as saying, “it’s better to have just a few good friends,” at least not from a business standpoint.  Weak ties are usually where you find jobs, clients, etc.  You need to balance the strength of your relationships and the number of them you maintain.

And, each person’s needs are different.  A person selling a $20 e-book and $25 teleclasses has entirely different needs than a person selling 6-figure enterprise software deals.

I’ll also echo what Roger said about discussion forums.  I agree that there’s every bit as much opportunity in discussion forums as in social networking sites.  I don’t think there’s anything “magical” about social networking sites — the social networking is a nice added feature to online community.  Ultimately, though, it’s still the simple conversation between people that creates friendships and business opportunities.  Let’s set some realistic expectations — all social networking sites do is provide a platform for connecting and communicating.  If that’s not producing “successful results”, however you define them, then where does the fault lie?  You might as well blame the telephone.

So forget the media hype, forget the marketing from the vendors — if you want to see how social networking sites really are working for people, stop by my web site or drop me a line.  Or, you can continue to assume that your personal experience is representative of everyone else and remain a cynic.