Online Business Networking- A Tool to Increase Business
By Joseph L. Rosenberg CPA
As the internet continues to grow, business owners find new ways to increase productivity and take advantage of modern technology tools to grow their business. One such vehicle is the use of online business networking sites.
Just as email allows individuals to communicate over the internet, and a website allows a business to promote itself, take orders and provide information about the company, online business networking sites allow a business or individual to promote themselves on the internet, obtain information about others and even develop a sense of community among like minded individuals. Some sites offer the individual the opportunity to create a home page, putting your picture, business interests and other pertinent information on the site for viewers to see and respond to. Networks where individuals can discuss topics of mutual interest are prevalent. Other sites are useful for hiring managers and people seeking employment.
While you can develop business relationships with individuals you meet on the internet at these sites, this will not replace the need for in-person meetings either with these contacts if they are local, or others. Joining and actively participating in your local chambers of commerce, trade organizations and other groups are still an essential way to get your message across in your local market. Some of the online groups also host in-person events. This becomes a good way to connect the individual you met online to an actual person. You will also find that some of your local chamber of commerce members are also online at these sites. And some sites offer the ability to form groups so that your local chamber of commerce can form a group where members can communicate with each other.
While the business networking sites are setup for business, many people join for social reasons as well. The line between professional and social settings is not always marked, so make sure you investigate each site and be prepared for possible overlap. Many sites are free to join, although some have limitations for use by non-paying members. The cost is generally nominal to have unlimited use, given the benefits they offer.
Where to find a list of the networking sites and reviews of the major ones? A good place to look is at thevirtualhandshake.com where there is a social software guide under the list of free resources. My experience has been with Company of Friends (run by Fast Company magazine at fastcompany.com), Ecademy (ecademy.com), Linkedin (linkedin.com) and Ryze (ryze.com). All but Linkedin have held in- person meetings in my area that I have attended. However, Linkedin is probably the largest of the four, with about 2.5 million members at this writing. Ecademy has a small presence in the US but is good for those looking for overseas contacts, too. Company of Friends has a couple of groups in New Jersey in addition to New York City. Ryze also has a strong presence in the New York Metropolitan area. I’m also a member of a Linkedin forum on yahoo on which members offer tips to improve their Linkedin. experience.
Through these online business networking sites I have learned about other people’s businesses, obtained new business leads, contributed to discussion groups in areas of my expertise, attended in-person networking groups, learned about new technological advances to improve business, and made lots of contacts. I even met an individual who was related to cousins I didn’t know about, thereby expanding my family tree. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about any of the sites I frequent. Otherwise, hope to see you or hear from you at one or more of these online business networking sites.
Note: This article appeared in the May/June 2005 print edition of the Caribbean American & Hispanic Business Journal (www.cbji.com) and the April/June 2005 print edition of Diversity Plus Magazine (www.diversityplus.com). © 2005. All rights reserved.