Business networking via the Internet has increased immensely in the past few years, but does it actually work?
It has become more and more acceptable to admit that business networking sites have a key role to play in supporting small and medium sized companies across the UK.
Many of these companies now have Facebook pages representing their businesses. They have a presence on LinkedIn, they tweet soundbites of their every move on their Twitter account, and smaller companies and sole traders can bid for jobs on sites such as PeoplePerHour.com, The Business Network Online, and a newer rival, OfficeCavalry.com. Business owners can now spend hours of their working day making new links, quoting online for projects, and posting portfolio photos and information to their business profiles. But what's it all for?
Since September 2010, Kessler Associates
has been conducting an experiment in making contacts and bidding for work online and the results have been eye-opening. Or rather the lack of results.
We created a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kessler-Associates/61606971514
We registered a Twitter account at http://twitter.com/#!/KesslerAssoc
We opened a LinkedIn account at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/kesslerassociates
And we registered at PeoplePerHour and Office Cavalry and started bidding for projects.
Four months later, we have eighteen 'fans' on Facebook, we have tweeted 58 times, we have 97 LinkedIn connections, we have bid for twenty-two projects on PeoplePerHour.com and one on the brand new OfficeCavalry site.
That tidy sum has involved a great many hours of writing contact messages, trimming uplifting tweets to fit the strict word count required, calculating and wording hopeful bids, creating and uploading portfolio pictures and PDF-format portfolio files, writing profile content, editing profile content to improve it, and then editing it again because the earlier version didn't look right, and wading through pages and pages of material from other companies doing the same thing to see if we could offer them any services which they might find useful.
There’s no doubt that the opportunity to meet new customers and gain better and more competitive quotes from a wider supplier base is absolutely critical – and that’s where online business networking should come in - but there is clearly a danger of going too far with it.
Four months of work and the results were surprising. Not one single working project has been generated from any of the activities described above. In fact, the only newly-generated work in that time has come from direct email contact to businesses; a message sent to one individual in the hope that they like what you are saying and agree that there are grounds for working together.
The amount of time you can spend at networking online can be hugely disproportionate to the return, as we have clearly found. Ultimately, networking of this kind allows you to reach more people with less effort, to identify and connect with the right people more quickly, and to reduce travel time and expense. Just be careful that you are doing what is useful for your business, and not simply broadcasting to an audience that isn't listening. And that includes blog-writing too!