For more than 100 years local business networking has been done more or less the same way. You join a group, club or chamber (after paying your membership dues) then you’re allowed to network with other people within that group.
If you’re not part of their “Scooby Gang” then you’re not allowed to play.
In some cases it’s even worse because if you’re the 2nd [insert your job here] then you might not even be allowed to join – even if you offer to pay!
It’s a flawed model but it really was the only game in town … until January 2012. That’s when I decided the old-school networking model needed an update … in a BIG way.
Technology often has a way of disrupting things and flattening old hierarchies and this was no different. In early 2012 Social Media was mainstream, people where mobilizing and with almost ubiquitous broadband it was easier than ever to connect online and share.
The costs of connecting people had fallen dramatically and online it cost practically nothing to connect thousands together. But people still needed that live connection, in-person meetings where still a necessity. So what to do?
Easy, you change the business model.
I believe you should be able to meet in a safe and welcoming (yet informal way) and simply talk to each other. I believe admittance should be free and the networking should be simple.
There should be no exclusions, no long-term contracts and no “performance pressure” (my research clearly told me folks wanted to talk to each other one on one or in small groups but did not want to speak to the room and give a 2-minute intro.)
I also believe that a bigger pool of possible connections is better than a smaller pool. Don’t believe me? Checkout Metcalfe’s Law on Wikipedia about the power of networks.
And while there is a place for smaller networks (I call them mastermind groups if category exclusions apply) open b2b networking is the place most folks will start.
However, as I pointed out earlier … the chamber was really the only game in town offering large-scale open b2b networking. Ironically, they’re not truly open because you can only network and do business with other members.
With the launch of the Social Fusion Network (as described in MEETUPOLOGY, my best-selling course and book of the same name) those restrictions don’t apply. All are welcome, all can network with anyone (member or not) and membership is free.
The model is devastatingly simple. This might illustrate its impact on the local networking community. In my home town of Burlington Ontario the local chamber has about 1100 members (give or take.) That number changes little each year, it’s fairly steady. (Note: the local chamber took 100 years to reach 1000 members.)
Within 18 months of launching SFN our presence in Burlington ON (alone) had grown to almost 3x the size of the chamber database.
And to those that might think the quality of such a group would be questionable … I’d say read the 100+ reviews that prove otherwise. Read about the various signature series yearly events we produce celebrating local and nearby business (each time attracting around 500 guests, 30+ vendors and numerous VIP’s.)
It’s a simple model that works. It’s a mixture of timing, technology and a solid psychological design that supports the evolution of networking and people’s expectations in this new digitally connected world.
And if you’re wondering how such a model is monetized I explain it all in Meetupology.
I also explain the origin back story in more detail and lay out the Social Fusion formula and encourage you to model your networking efforts on it as a means to develop your own local lead generating engine (*hint*hint*)