Friday, November 12, 2010

Sell the network, not the product

I’m doing some social media work within the recruitment industry at the moment, and it’s interesting hearing some of the viewpoints about how best to implement it. Fortunately for me the company I work for are very understanding about how it can and should be used to good effect, but that’s not the case universally. Then I came across an article that both surprised and wound me up, so I had to comment on it. I should have known better.

The article was about the recruitment industry but it could easily be applied to any industry. It was about how recruiters were trying to use professional networks to find candidates for jobs, and since they were having trouble finding a direct return on investment to warrant the use of social media, they were thinking twice. It was so wrong. It was all focused on generating quantifiable sales, immediately.

Considering LinkedIn and wider professional social networking tools in this way misses their fundamental point. It should be about discovering an audience, being part of a community and communicating with them. Large brands and celebrities have pulling power and are able to define and develop their own audience and communities around themselves but for SME’s listening and discovering what communities already exist needs to come first. BEFORE the business gets involved. This is key. The social networker who creates their profile and starts pushing messages (either sales messages or otherwise) without discovering what audience already exists and what they’re talking about is almost certain to fail.

In looking for return on investment by measuring the number of clients secured these companies are measuring the wrong metric. They are not looking for a return in the right place. These tools are not recruitment tools or sales tools, they are networking tools and need to be measured as such. When a company hosts or attends an offline networking event, how do they judge the effectiveness of going? By analysing the opportunity to meet with clients, raise their profile in the sector and learn from others. Correct?

So why is online networking measured differently?

The return from online networking needs to be measured in terms of how much of an online network it builds up for individuals/companies, how effectively it allows you to communicate with people you normally don’t have the time/opportunity to reach regularly, how much online coverage it can generate and how much it promotes you or your company as a brand. Now if you engage in online ADVERTISING through social networks, then by all means look at direct sales as your measurement metric. But not if you’re networking. At least not initially. It's true that professional networking will ultimately lead to sales, but this is likely to happen through the relationships you develop.

If your LinkedIn profile is the first result on Google when people search for your name is that not powerful? Is that not a return? Does that not promote you and consequently the brand or company you work for?

Those still stuck in the mindset where every action must have a direct, monetary value need to get out of it. An appreciation of qualitative results needs to come in to business alongside quantitative analysis. I’m not suggesting professional networking be entered into with no idea of what it could bring. Of course not. Nor am I suggesting that a return need not be measured.

But measure the right things, and do it for the right reasons. If you’re networking, actually network. Don’t just sell. Build relationships.

The original article appears here.


  1. common sense just isn't that common mazher. that's the problem. these types of mistakes are made by both novices and large coorporations who can't see the bigger picture.


  2. Head banging on the wall.

    I just read that original article and thought "you must be kidding".