Monday, October 12, 2009

What is Visible Networking?

This past week has had an interesting confluence of events that's led me to conclude that I want to start doing a lot of visible networking among the tech / web crowd here in Los Angeles. I want to take you through a bit of what brought me here, because I think it will help explain what I mean by visible networking.

Networking Events – Questionable Return on Your Time

Last week I posted about Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California and received back some interesting comments, some of the best from a LinkedIn Group. Several of the comments there echoed what I've been feeling:

Person 1: I have attended a plethora of networking groups and have also found it harder and harder to continue to be motivated to go.

Person 2: Very discouraging (few if any happy with their networking efforts) but not unexpected. I've not found any great groups either.

There were some suggestions in the LinkedIn group, but nothing that made me think … wow, that would be great.

To top this off, at the LA CTO Forum we had Mark Suster as the presenter. I really enjoy his blog and I can't wait to mix it up with him some more on the value of Hollywood money / connections. But to the point here, when we were talking about networking events, Mark and the group generally were hard pressed to say what events were worth attending. Mark mentioned Twiistup and VentureNet, but generally the room felt that it was hit and miss with all events.

And when you think about the return on your time, it becomes even more discouraging. Most of the time when I go to an in-person networking events in Los Angeles, it takes me at least 3 hours. More often 4. Especially with traffic. And that doesn't count the time for Prenetworking – see Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking and Pre-network with LinkedIn.

I'm not saying that I'm giving up completely on in-person events, but I think visible networking will provide a more effective use of time.

Social Media / Online Networking – Better Use of Time

I present a fair amount on the topic of how to use social media. The same Friday as the LA CTO Forum with Mark Suster, I presented to a group of about 40-50 mostly service providers on use of social media to build your reputation and grow your business. I showed them how I can do a LinkedIn search and connect with all sorts of people in a few minutes. I discussed how I often will set up 30 minute conversations about particular topics with people I know or folks that I meet through LinkedIn. These conversations are generally really great and I meet all kinds of interesting people. I actually find that they are much better than conversations at most networking events.

While I was presenting, I said:

It's a much better use of my time to use LinkedIn to spark a conversation than it is to go to networking events.

Blogging an Online Conversation

At the same presentation, I told that audience that

Blogging is an online conversation.

I'm engaging in conversation with other bloggers all the time. And with my perceived prototypical audience member. I've talked a bit about this before in posts like: Conversation Topics.

Combined to form Visible Networking

The above events caused me to think:

Why don't I combine my online networking activity along with my blogging activity to network in the open – to do visible networking?

What do I mean by visible networking, well it's simply the idea that instead of having a 30 minute phone conversation, why not have that conversation out in public view. Twitter is pretty much that already. But I'm thinking about deeper conversations than I have on twitter. So, clearly it would make sense to do this in my blogs. And I'm thinking about having these conversations both with people I already know and people that I've just met or are just getting to know.

The advantages are simple:

  • I won't forget the conversation.
  • It's likely much more time effective than in-person networking.
  • I can have relatively meaty conversations.
  • And by making it open, then it provides value to other people and hopefully to the broader network.

I'm not 100% sure what this will exactly mean in practice. I know that I'll be getting to know more of the influencers in Los Angeles and having blog conversations with them. Sometimes, I'll send them a note through LinkedIn or even an email (gasp) and strike up a conversation. And I'll post about it. And maybe they will post about it. And I'll do my best to make as much of the conversation visible.

Now I'm sure quite a few people will be saying something along the lines of "Tony, no duh." That's what this stuff has been all along. But sometimes it takes me a while to catch on.

With that, I look forward to visible networking with you.

And certainly if you have ideas on how to best make this happen, please let me know.


Cliff Allen said...

The Visible Networking concept appeals to me for several reasons. I like having in-depth conversations to clarity my thoughts and to learn more about the people in the conversation. Plus, the more I know about someone, the more likely I can spot an a opportunity that's appropriate for that person.

Face-to-face interactions are great, but the time required for meetings and events makes it hard to justify the investment of time. This means online networking is desirable, but it takes having a process to make online networking viable.

There are a bunch of online technologies that could be used -- even Twitter -- but a blog with threads of comments is my favorite. The challenge isn't technical -- it's in pulling together a core group who like to share their opinions.

Your idea of "Visible Networking" can help people take the "glad to meet you" networking to the next level -- "glad to know you" relationships. Then, face-to-face meetings and activities become much more valuable.

I see Visible Networking as a series of conversations around blog posts, and encouraging a group of people to actively participate. It's like a dinner discussion where a topic is discussed, then the group moves to the next topic.

When you mentioned your Browse My Stuff technology the other day it finally hit me how Visible Networking could work. While a thread of blog comments is good, I loose track of the conversation when each blogger posts their side of a "conversation" on their our blogs! By having all of the bloggers in a community available on a Browse My Stuff site it's easier to follow -- and easier for others to join in the conversation.

Tony Karrer said...

Cliff - great comment!

Some amazingly great thoughts... Captures a lot of what I'm thinking ... and gives me some ideas of what will make sense.

"The challenge isn't technical -- it's in pulling together a core group who like to share their opinions."

"It's like a dinner discussion where a topic is discussed, then the group moves to the next topic."

Great point about being able to use Browse My Stuff. I'm not 100% sure how it could work out the best. Should everyone tag things that are part of a given discussion / topic and have it aggregated? We can also do that manually like I do with the Big Question each month. Basically a carnival.

So, my immediate question is - how do we share these ideas? Is a stream in this post okay? Or do we need to move it somewhere else?