Monday, March 29, 2004

Word of Web 

I’ve owned ComputerEase since 1989. With the exception of one bartered-for ad in the old Desktop Publisher Newsletter (early 90’s), a listing in the Philadelphia Women’s Yellow Pages (late-80’s and currently) and an online listing in the Philadelphia Business Journal online (just recently), I’ve never advertised. Most of my business opportunities have come my way via word-of-mouth.

In addition to saving the cost of advertising, word-of-mouth comes accompanied by the built in appeal of a personal recommendation and assumed credibility. If you need a particular service and a friend or colleague gives you the name and number of a contractor they’ve used or know personally, you are more likely to enter into that new relationship with a bit more trust that you would if it were a un-vouched-for stranger.

Lately I’ve been looking into a few web sites that attempt to emulate this word-of-mouth networking. Business networking sites allow members to post a business profiles and/or skills list, and then personally invite business contacts to do the same -- thereby creating an online networking circle. By joining (usually free for basic memberships) you are allowed certain privileges, such as searching for employees or jobs or investigating companies that you have a pending deal with.

The first site I checked into (and joined) was LinkIn.com. This site let me post a profile and list my skills. Potential employers who are linked to the site through colleagues can search for freelancers and find me, or I can search for contract work. I liked this site because it had a very professional look to it, and it seemed well-organized. Check it out and let me know what you think. (And if you are a business professional who wants to join my circle, let me know!)

Here are some other similar sites to check out:

Ryze is a business site where members get their own home page and can exchange messages with other members. They can also join (or create) topic-specific networks. The guy who created this was the founding investor in Napster: Adrian Scott. I am not sure if that’s a plus or a minus given the controversy Napster started!

Spoke Software claims to help you network faster and more effectively. Spoke lets you do job and hiring searches, get insider information about companies and personal introductions to hiring managers in the “right” departments. This seems like a great site for people who depend on networking to sustain their careers (like salespeople). I didn’t sign up – but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you.

ZeroDegrees had an story posted about the concept: “As an experiment in 1967, Stanley Milgram, a Harvard psychologist, sent 300 letters to randomly selected Omaha residents, asking them to forward a letter to a designated "target" person using only their personal networks. It turned out the average number of steps from the Omaha to the Boston-based target was six, giving birth to the expression, "six degrees of separation." ZeroDegrees (ZDI) claims to automate Milgram's process. ZDI attempts to replicate the social process we use when we ask colleagues with an introduction. If no one knows the person directly, they ask others on our behalf. If all parties along the way agree, an introduction is made and discreet contact information shared. The site deos this by using proprietary technology that utilizes your Outlook address book. I didn’t sign up for this one because I don’t use Outlook, but if I did, I probably would have tried it.

It’s Not What You Know (my vote for best name of a business networking site) allows you to visually see how you know others. They claim this is important because it lets you see who your contacts know and what mutual connections you have. Knowing these connections can help you obtain your next job, find that key client, start a business relationship, and more. I liked this site and may sign up when I have time to read all of the “rules.”

I plan on exploring these sites a bit more and may join a few of them. If you sign up – send me an invite so I can be part of your “circle!”
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