We came across a great article in the Mass High Tech Journal by Richard Banfield
about the relative value of size versus quality of one’s personal or business network. Banfield makes three interesting points we feel are worth sharing when thinking about referral networking.
1) For younger users, or, the “Millennial Generation” or Generation X as they are known by advertisers and branders, the size of one’s network is more important than the strength of the relationships in that network.
This is interesting and not altogether surprising when you consider the mindset of a 21 year-old student hipster versus a 45 year-old small business professional. “If we only knew then what we know now…” comes to mind. When I was 21 I was certainly worried by the fact that I didn’t have a “ton” of friends; I was never part of a large clique. And this was well before social networks (or email for that matter) even existed.
By the time I hit my thirties I realized that the six or seven quality people I chose to spend time with were all I needed. And now in my forties, well, I’m lucky to see more than a couple of them regularly. With my growing business network it was the same. As a young PR professional at a small agency in New York, I was focused on amassing the biggest Rolodex of press contacts in the office. Now, of course, I know that long standing relationships based on mutual respect and trust with the right ten journalists in the right industries are far more valuable. And when those journalists move to a bigger outlet or another medium – they take our relationship with them, introducing me to a whole new set of peers.
Banfield seems to agree. He argues that 2) “For businesspeople, we find the size of our networks being less important than the degree of trust between each connection….” He also points out something very interesting, that social and business networks, whether LinkedIn or Facebook, have not quite figured out how to measure the trust level between members; they have no way of qualifying or quantifying it to their audiences. So what’s the real value of hundreds of “contacts?” If vague prestige among strangers is your goal, maybe a lot. But for the average small business professional looking to turn business referral exchange into revenue, the answer remains, “Not much.”
This speaks to the notion that as the social and business networking industry matures, the natural evolution will be toward niche, or smaller, networks with a specific focus. We’ve seen the development of niche networking groups already – from lawyers and real estate agents to knitting enthusiasts. For those networks in which there is a specific, measurable business proposition (i.e. quality referrals or proven growth in business networking relationships) this trend will only sharpen. It’s the long tail theory at work again. We believe that the niche business networks who service several complimentary vertical industries (like Referral Key) are best positioned for the future.
Banfield’s final point is that 3) “The size of your network conveys popularity while trust establishes your longevity as a member of the network. Think of the size of your network being your marketing department while the strength of your connections is your customer service department… the strength of your connections suggests integrity.”
We couldn’t agree more. How does one measure the strength of one’s connections? This is where the mystery of humanity and precision of technology meet. Only you know how you rate those in your business network (and your personal network, for that matter) as far as trust ability, integrity, professionalism and reliability. Only you know the quality of the referrals driven by those in your business network.
No program or application or widget will ever assess a human relationship with the expertise your personal experience does. What the right technology tools can do for you is manage, track and store the information and experiences, providing reporting, tracking and reminder tools so your brain doesn’t have to. The right tools can make your professional relationships work harder for you, and grow your business as a result.
We would add that not only is the strength of your connections your “customer service department,” it is the very skeletal framework that houses your business. The controversial comedienne Sandra Berhnardt once had a one woman show titled, “Without You, I’m Nothing.” She knew the deal.
This is what a strong business referral network is all about. And the beautiful thing is that it works both ways – whether you’re twenty-one or sixty-one.