Professional networking: is global or regional better?

I recently received an email message from Scott Ingram about his new professional networking Web site Network In Austin, focused on the Austin, Texas community. Since I’m a part of the LinkedIn community, focused on global networking connections, I thought it was quite interesting to contrast the two.
There are a number of questions that come up, however, as I think about local versus global networking and watch more networking sites come online every week. I also get invited to participate in lots of them, from the slick clone O’Reilly Connection to the rather amateurish Soflow, so I have a chance to really see how different people think about professional networking.
The first, and most obvious question is why are there so darn many sites? That is, if each site were visibly different from the others then I could understand why a group of developers would put the time in to build a new online networking site, but they’re all basically the same. So what could possibly motivate people to build new ones when there are already existing networking sites with millions of users? And what would motivate users to join a new site when they’re already devoted the time to build a profile on one of the busier, older sites?

Another question, one that brings us back to the faux celebrity death match of LinkedIn versus NetworkInAustin, is should we network professionally at the global level, national level, or locally?
The answer, of course, is “all of the above”. On a local level, I find it critically important to have access to a consolidated event calendar that lets me know what’s going on, who is going to be in town, what parties I should be attending, and so on. It also makes it much easier to take the step from email to face-to-face interaction: networking online with someone in, say, Australia is considerably harder, even with email and Skype, because we’re still social creatures, and there’s still something invaluable about building relationships through physical interaction.
To get another perspective on the matter, I asked Scott Ingram of NetworkInAustin why he believes that local networking should be added to the online networking efforts of global professionals. Here’s his response:

In my experience, the majority of small business owners and professionals that I network with ONLY do business locally. They would probably ask why they would network globally when they can network locally.

Networking locally not only gives you more direct access to your target market if you do most of your business locally. It also gives you the ability to sit down with people face to face and really get to know them. That�s the biggest thing that�s missing from the larger online networking sites. E-mail and telephone calls will never replace the value of talking with someone in person. That in person connection is the cornerstone of a real solid relationship.

Take us for example. I contacted you because you�ve written some great things about networking and are a talented and truly prolific blogger. We�ve just started an online networking relationship. However, when I picture you in my mind you�re a cartoon character! Unfortunately I can�t sit down with you at Starbucks and really get to know you. Sure we could do that on the phone, but it�s really not the same. Even though I was able to buy you a drink.

As networkers we also think differently when we�re at a local networking event. If you and I are at a mixer together someone walks in who I think you should really know. It�s no problem for me to take you over and introduce you to that person. Online I never would have thought about this possible connection. On sites like LinkedIn you need to go and make your own connections. The real power of networking is having other people help you make connections that you didn�t know you needed.

Don�t get me wrong. The global networking sites are great tools, I use a couple of them myself. However, if I�m going to need to make my own connections I find it much easier to connect with fellow bloggers. Why? Because I�ve already been able to get a reasonable understanding of who they are by reading their blogs.

We’re all part of a global village, right? I mean, I work on projects with people from around the world and am part of groups with members scattered to the proverbial four winds. Sometimes I have no idea where colleagues are located and am surprised when I realize there are four, five, or even ten time zones separating us.
In that sense, what’s the point of constraining networking to just a geographically local community? Since professional networking is happening online with increasing frequency, it’s completely logical to connect with peers in Dubai, Tokyo, Auckland and São Paulo, isn’t it?
Since “mashups” are all the rage with Web developers nowadays, I sense that there’s an interesting intersection of local professional networking, event calendars, aggregated blogs, RSS feeds of regional news, maps and sites like LinkedIn waiting to be put into the pot, stirred, simmered for a while, and put together by some enterprising folk. It’s an untapped opportunity and wouldn’t be that incredibly hard to put together, would it? And another startup idea: why hasn’t someone written a universal networking site profile translator so I could focus on making one really comprehensive than just clone it on all the other sites I’d like to join? Back to topic, though!
I believe that there is a need for regional networking sites like Network In Austin, but I surmise that their days are numbered or that they’ll all gradually succumb to competing on the national and, ultimately, international level because there’s no reason not to do so. If I can have an event calendar for my home town, why not add events for other cities within a day’s drive, or day’s flight, then let visitors automatically constrain their subset of the calendar to only areas they’re interested in. And make that an RSS feed they can subscribe to, while we’re at it?
What’s left is the interpersonal networking, and for more and more professionals, networking in the online world really opens up the chance to look for peers and opportunities based on your exact skills and interests rather than the “adequate fit” approach of looking for a job in your neighborhood or even <gasp> reading the Classified Ads in the paper.
And then we really will achieve a global professional village after all.

2 comments on “Professional networking: is global or regional better?

  1. Dave I have to agree. Our small business has clients spread right across the globe but we only have three who live in the same country as we do and only one of those is in the same town.
    But that hasn’t had a negative impact on our business at all. We’re working at 110% and the work just doesn’t stop coming.
    In fact, as I write this I’m beginning to see more clearly that working globally is really the ideal. When you work locally you are at the mercy of local economic conditions. When you work globally a quiet economic time in the town where we live has no impact at all.

  2. Dave, I love that you’re tackling this issue. My experience is local or global, but when to think local or global.
    Having started numerous businesses that have had customers from all over the world, I found that each business starts in two places: (1) Personal Network, i.e. former colleagues, friends and family, and (2) Local Networks, local business community and contacts.
    Nothing sells like trust (Personal Network) and personal relations (Local Network). That’s where I have personally have had the most success in building my businesses.
    Here’s the interesting part, the longer I’ve been in business, the more geographically diverse my personal contact base becomes. One of my first clients in a recent venture was a former colleague of mine that moved to Boston and started a new company. Just recently he meet someone at a party in Boston and whammo, I’ve another client in the Boston area.
    Once you have the experience and pedigree to prove that you excel at your profession, the global opportunities come easier and easier.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *