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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Social Not-working?

Just a few quick thoughts about many of the local business, community and social networking events springing from online networking.

It amazes me that one notable effect from the advent of the global communications era is the strengthening of local ties.  Whilst I can now talk and share ideas with people worldwide, it's locally where the internet has had the biggest positive effect on my life and business.

"Organic" events like Thames Valley Social Media Cafe, Digital Surrey and our own informal Farnham Tweetups have created a buzz by opening up numerous business opportunities and having a lot of fun in the process.

But it's not all good news.  I talked to several people recently about coming along to one of the local events and was surprised by their response.

A natural order is emerging: evening Tweetups rarely touch on business - they're more about food, drink and conversation.  Some of the events have no organisational structure whatsoever whilst most have only the minimal necessary to function (a website, and with it, a de facto group organiser).

Most of the events I've been to are far more enjoyable and productive than formal networking "clubs", yet none have any membership fee, compared to £1,000 per annum for some clubs.  And devoid of organisational structure (chairman, president, treasurer and committee members) stuffy internal politics has not (yet) become an issue.

Meeting someone just once in person can also greatly improve your online relationship.  Through informal research measuring click-through ratios using my own link shortener (ejf.me) I saw CTR 100% improved for tweets on my own stream than identical tweets on another Twitter account I ran anonymously (normalised for follower numbers).

Having formal scientific training I know there are too many flaws in my approach for this figure to be taken as anything other than a rough estimate, but it highlights the power between relationship and online influence.

But I've started digging into why people who I think would enjoy such events don't come along.

A concern from a couple of people I spoke to arises - in their view - as a consequence of a lack of internal structure.  Newcomers - some who have attended one or two of the above events - have felt unwelcome.

Natural friendships and allegiances formed between existing group members can give newcomers the feeling of being an outsider in an organisation where "everyone" already knows "everyone else".

Of course as an "insider" I explained that was nonsense, I knew only a handful of people, and few of them very well.

But what has this to do with organisational structure?  From a lay perspective (I did take subsidiary studies in psychology whilst studying for my bachelors' in physics) it could be that the formal standing of any organisation which openly states "new members welcome" gives newcomers a mandate to belong.  It could also be that the "stuffy internal politics" I described above does at least ensure that one or two existing members are on hand to welcome new members.

I'd like to see organic networking events grow in strength, they offer an alternative to the franchised networking clubs who send a significant proportion of membership fees on to the franchiser, who's first goal is profit; the franchised approach can lead to a self-serving element, where new members are welcomed more for their subscription fees helping meet club targets than their contribution to the club.

Whilst I see that the franchiser has a role in advertising and promoting the club, in many cases a good club is self-promoting - especially one that uses social media as an organisational tool.

But as with anything there are some positive lessons to be learned from the old world, and even then, our local events still won't be everyone's cup of tea -  I'd love to hear your own views and experiences.



  1. Pretty much sums my experience, add to that lots of vacuous waffle about ethereal concepts that don't translate into life or solve real world business problems.

    Personally I think the Twitter and the Facebook fads are just that, fads, but have elements established societies can learn from, rather than the other way around I think you're indicating.

    These events aren't really for me.

  2. They are indeed fads and surely only a small percentage see it as some sort of viable alternative to paid "networking" schemes. James I hereby demand you organise free beer at the next gathering.

  3. Hi there James

    As you know, we organise the monthly #digitalsurrey meet ups. These are free, always with an industry speaker, with drinks (sometimes sponsored) afterwards. We try to make it a group that people benefit from: with knowledge, contacts, and sometimes business. I hope that the group is welcoming, however know that these meet-ups aren't everyone's cup of tea.

    For those people who have come along, and decided for one reason or another, that #digitalsurrey is not for them - please get in touch, and let me know how you think we can improve the community.

    #digitalsurrey will only thrive if it delivers what people want - so help me make it work better for you.

    And don't forget our next meet up is on the 21st October in Guildford!

    Thanks for the post James - really useful.

    Best wishes,



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