Online Networks Lag Behind Other Networking Efforts

As part of the survey for the book, Business Networking And Sex (not what you think), my co-authors and I asked several questions which weren’t used in the final manuscript.  The survey was open to the public and was conducted with over 12,000 business people from every populated continent in the world.  One of the questions we didn’t use in the book was “What types of organizations do you belong to?” (note that respondents were able to pick more than one).

We also asked a question that was used in the manuscript in various places: “Has networking played a role in your success?”  We got some interesting findings when we cross-tabulated these two questions with one another.  We expected casual contact and referral networks to do fairly well, and they did.  However, we were surprised by some of the other results in the survey.

Don’t shoot the messenger however – online networks did very poorly, with only 27% of the respondents saying that networking has played a role in their success!  Women’s business organizations did even worse, with 17.7%; and service clubs came in last, with only 17.2% of the respondents saying that networking played a role in their success.

What does this mean?  Overall, people who got the most results from their networking efforts seem to participate in “face-to-face” casual contact networks like a Chamber of Commerce, referral networks like BNI, and to a lesser extent professional associations (like any professional body or society representing a particular industry), while online networks, women’s business organizations, social/business groups, and service clubs rated very low in success results relating to their networking.

Even though they didn’t fare well in this survey, I’m actually quite an advocate of online networks, women’s business organizations, and service clubs – and I will continue to be so. I did some thinking about the results of the survey, and why these groups came in with such low percentages compared to the casual contact and referral networks.

I’m inclined to believe that the women’s organizations and service clubs didn’t do as well because they both have another important purpose that take precedence over networking.  Women’s business organizations often provide a place where members both support and educate each other. The mission of service clubs focus primarily on providing service to the community, with networking opportunities being more of a “by-product.”  Seeing tangible success in members’ networking efforts is much more subtle in groups like these, and that may be one of the main reasons why they didn’t do as well in the survey.

Because I was really surprised by the results, I spent a lot of time thinking about online networks and their disappointing standing in the respondents’ ranking of successful networking efforts. The results are indicative of a comment that I hear quite often by business owners who have begun to market their businesses via the growing number of online social and business networking sites: “I’ve got a profile page and a thousand connections…now what?”

Many entrepreneurs jumped on the “social media marketing” bandwagon and spent a lot of time and effort building their online social capital (through LinkedIn “connections”, Facebook “friends” and “likes”, and Twitter “followers”), but without an actual plan of how to turn this growing number of contacts into actual customers. This is one area many entrepreneurs struggle with as online networking continues to come into its own.

Another issue is that the addition of Internet marketing (including online networking) has exponentially increased the number of marketing messages the average person sees per day – to literally tens of thousands. While online – whether chatting on Google Talk, or looking at friends’ photos on Facebook, watching a celebrity’s Twitter feed, learning about a connection’s promotion on LinkedIn, reading a blog for business or pleasure, or doing an internet search – a person is inundated with entreaties.

Read this!

Buy this!

Try this!

Connect with me!

Like my business!

It’s easy to get distracted by these messages, particularly because those who have the time, staff, or money to put out the most messages tend to drown out any messages from smaller businesses or single individuals also trying to get their messages to be “heard.”

As I’ve already mentioned, I like online networking.  I am active in online networking. We may someday figure out how to make it work even better; however, the results are the results and – still a surprise to me – they’re not very favorable for online networks. I certainly don’t think that entrepreneurs should stop finding ways to improve their success in the online networking arena. However, as we have learned in our recent multi-national study, online networks still have a way to go before they can begin to compete with the effectiveness of the more traditional, face-to-face networking opportunities available.


15 thoughts on “Online Networks Lag Behind Other Networking Efforts

  1. Ivan, first let me tell you that I can’t wait to buy the book based on what I heard at the BNI conference presentation that you, Frank and Hazel did. It was both informative and extremely entertaining.

    To your point of online networking, one of the reasons why so few people are deriving value from it is because they have neither the process nor the mindset necessary to succeed.

    I have been educating people how to use LinkedIn to generate business. Once people understand that LinkedIn is about relationships vs a sales channel they start approaching it differently.

    To succeed on LinkedIn people need to accumulate two currencies: trust and goodwill. It is all about “giver’s gain.” It is also about the VCP process you talk about in BNI and The Referral Institute.

    The last piece is that you don’t know who all the people you know, know. So LinkedIn makes those relationships visibile. And if you build trust and goodwill with the people in your network, these people will gladly introduce you to the people you need to meet to make your business successful.

    Lastly, I have found that it is not an either/or approach to networking (online vs offline.) When you to a both/and you get a synergy that is tough to beat.

    Thank you for another insightful article and for all you do to help the networking world out there.

  2. Rick, you are right on in the area of people thinking that somehow online networking is different than face-to-face and that they don’t need to use the same VCP online. I do believe that there is a lot of misunderstanding about how to use online networking successfully and in time and with more training it will be a more vaible resource. I agree you do need to both. It isn’t an if but when proposition and although the results of this survey indicate that online is less successful, I wonder if it will be the same in a few years after professional like yourself have had a chance to do some real training. My guess is that online will catch up a bit more. I’m counting on it. Also, you always know that results can be skewed a bit by the audience so perhaps many of the responsdents were already BNI members who like the face-to-face idea and count it as their most successful marketing. It is likely there is less result monitoring online.

  3. I’d have to admit that the numbers seem to be pretty accurate in my mind. I know a lot of people throw up these pages and then wonder why people aren’t just clamoring for their business. It’s pretty much the same with their websites; I tell people all the time it’s not about just throwing up a page and letting it do the work, but working the business just like they’d do it offline.

  4. I’ve been asking people to speak by phone if we’re geographically challenged or meet when that makes sense. I’ve done this on Twitter and LinkedIn.

    I don’t have enough data to draw conclusions like this fine report. I will say when I do talk to or meet with new acquaintances, the relationship is richer.
    So, I’ll keep challenging the status quo.

  5. I must be one of the exceptions to the rule, because online networking has definitely played a part in the success I am having in my business, and for all the same reasons that Rick and Vembra (who I both know personally – hi guys!) mentioned above. You have to apply VCP and givers gain in online networking for it to work for you. You may even have to apply it even more in online networking than you do in face-to-face networking because you lose the personal touch that you get from body language, voice inflection, etc. But it does work amazingly well, particularly with far-flung networks.

  6. I wonder if it has to do with putting the “what” and “how” before the “why”.
    I find that there is a wealth of information regarding “what” on-line networks I could use and “how” to use them.
    But I find very little good information about “why” I would want to.
    As the owner of a small business, there is very little I do (hiring, advertising, equipment purchases etc) before I have a handle on how it will help my business.
    I feel like those who are promoting and teaching on-line networks are skipping this all important step and then wondering why we don’t buy in.
    The piece that you (Ivan) recently wrote about LinkedIn (5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of LinkedIn) was a great example of providing the “why” and did a lot to get me moving forward with that on-line network.

  7. Ivan, It only drives home the point that nothing beats face-to-face interaction! The human touch is still needed. With online networking you dont’t get the ‘warm feeling’ which you get when you are talking with someone face-to-face.

    BNI principals if followed correctly will be able to reward you with far more referrals compared with online networking like Ecademy and LinkedIn!

    Rajan Baliah Esq.
    DR Heart Automobile

  8. I feel that there are some facts that need to be considered. Different industries react to different form of advertising. I feel very stongly that business is a numbers game, and it does not matter if it is service of product that you are providing. So unfortunately the more exposure you get the more chances you get of making a sale. The other fact that I feel should be mensioned is the rate of an effort to the rate of return. And do not let us forget that if your potential client does not have the need for your product or service they will not spend the money, and even if they will make the purchase they will have the feeling of regret, and this is definetly not a client that anyone wants. My conclusion is: you need to reach the right people at the right time. We can dress up the need for relationship need in business, the reality is: business is about making money not about who likes whom. So the statistics mensioned above should be a bit more detailed to show true picture, what product, what price range, timing, volume and currency spend.
    Ivan I did enjoy this article as most of the information posted on your web and look forward to your future once.
    South Africa.

  9. A couple of months ago I ran a poll on LinkedIn that asked the question “How much business have you received as a direct result of working with the LinkedIn community?” It received a number of interesting responses in the form of comments, mostly with people saying that they had received nothing. Interestingly though, although 61% of the respondents said less than £1k, 39% said anywhere between £1k and over £100k. That’s a large percentage of the respondents who actually made some money as a direct result of working with LinkedIn. As the results were coming in I became aware that perhaps a second question was probably in order too and that would have to be around ‘how much effort do you put into your online networking on LinkedIn?’ I suspect that the two sets of responses would correlate very nicely, with those who put the most effort in, getting the biggest benefits out. This is the same as with any other form of networking, those who are prepared to build relationships rather than just try to sell to the ‘prospects’ will always do well. Personally, I combine both for the reason that I never know who someone knows. It seems to work for me.

    Linda PH

    1. Good observations Linda. I believe there is likely to be a direct correlation between time spent and online results.

      Thanks for your thoughts.


      1. Thanks Ivan and I have noticed that it is also true of anything I do when it comes to Face to Face networking. In others words, one has to put oneself out and take action because it’s ‘not going to drop into your lap’. The mantra of Givers Gain is so true in so many different contexts and we forget that at our peril, particularly at times such as this when economic constraints are causing many to shrink back and focus inwardly rather than embrace outwardly. 🙂

  10. Just like in face-to-face networking (BNI) you have to both put in the time AND also have an effective process. One without the other is much less effective.

    I know plenty of people in BNI who do a lot of personal (1:1) meetings and yet they do it very poorly. They fail to follow the process of exchanging useful information on – like the one that is found in the GAINS sheets. These meetings end up being rather unproductive.

    So people who network online must also have an effective process to have it pay off – in addition to putting in the time

  11. Ivan, I would endorse this Blog and agree that the education of the business community around utilising online networking effectively is critical and is why so many are failing and wasting their time

    I also agree that the Internet Marketing Industry has been a destructive force and has damaged the promise of the social interaction and engagement that really is the way forward for anyone that enjoys the online world
    I ran a workshop with 25 unemployed Youths today and the finding were incredible for me, the brands are not engaging at all online and the Youths are not noticing their adverts or broadcasts. Huge education to happen and quite frankly I am disgusted by the majority of Media Agency’s for their lack of awareness of online networking and the money they are taking from marketing companies

    Thank you for this great Blog as always

    1. Thanks for the comments Penny. As you know – I’m a big fan of Ecademy. I believe that online networks are a great way to connect and network. I think it will take time for people to figure out the issues around “how” we can do that better.

  12. Hi Ivan – I found such humor in the poor way people network (just like in your article) that I wrote a poem and turned that into a rap song. Take a look at The Unproductive Networker here
    It is now the opening when I speak on the topic. Will also spread your expertise here and you might also want to submit articles at

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