Mara Gulens
January 20

The art of the cyber schmooze
The Globe and Mail

Undecided about whether to attend that 7 a.m. networking session or strengthen your business contacts on-line? Heed the advice of seasoned experts and make the most of both.

"Face-to-face has strength, so does on-line," says Juiced Consulting owner Jennifer Tribe, a regular user of business-oriented social networking resources on the Internet.

Tribe says her affiliation with, an on-line business network that offers both private messaging and public discussion areas to more than 400,000 members, helped with her relocation from Ontario to Nova Scotia. Those who join get their own networking-oriented home page, can send messages to other members, and can join special Ryze groups related to their specific industry, interests or location.

"I've found Ryze fabulous for my business," she says. "I've made great contacts, found suppliers, partnered with people. It's very much a complement to face-to-face networking."

For a handful of people, including Scott Allen, co-author of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online and a columnist at, on-line networks have completely overtaken the need for real world connections. But "for the typical person who has mostly local business, it's going to be a complement," he says.

Social networks, just like real life ones, come in all shapes and sizes. Members usually post their profiles and network through one-on-one messaging, often participating in discussions and forums. But most importantly, they increase the strength of their network through individual connections.

Social networks may not yet be as ubiquitous as eBay or But, with 40 million subscribers and twice the traffic of Google, is an example of a social network that is definitely mainstream, says Allen. Meanwhile, business networks such as, which has five million members, are becoming de rigueur for middle managers and anyone in sales, business development or marketing, he says.

Baiba Rubess, a Canadian businesswoman living in Europe and member of the on-line network, says business networks are useful for finding old business acquaintances or colleagues, seeking out contacts and ideas related to current business and exploring new opportunities.
"I can confirm that it works, as one small line of interest brought about a most unusual business development," says Rubess, the managing director of SIA Latvija Statoil. "By using the OpenBC network, I was able to swiftly and unexpectedly access a new business opportunity very successfully. I had already invested about two months in chasing an idea prior to that; here it took me 48 hours."

Sites such as OpenBC, Ryze and LinkedIn each have specific strengths on what it means to virtually network, and will appeal to different individuals. For Allen, that's like "hammers, wrenches and screwdrivers. Each tool has its task." In fact, Allen cautions users against becoming devoted to one particular network, because with that kind of emotional involvement, "you tend to get pulled into the drama and forget that you're there for the business."

As with real world networking, most people have no framework for what online activities make sense to support their business objectives, he says, so it pays to be involved in a number of different networks. "You want to get out there and meet new people interested in your topic.....There's a saying: It's not who you know, but who knows you."

Tapio Attila, a consultant and publisher of one of the oldest blogs in the mobile content industry, insists quality is more important than quantity, but then again he boasts 1,800 LinkedIn contacts.

Attila spends about an hour a week maintaining and developing his profile, and about two or three hours a week using it as a "people search engine." The on-line network has brought him a full-time consulting gig, he says. "LinkedIn helped support the perceived value of my Hollywood contacts."

Peter Mueller, vice-president of operations for Rx Networks in Vancouver, B.C., considers business networks a good search tool for resources and talent. "I'm looking for someone in Canada with Sun Solaris experience and GPS knowledge, and I would rather work through my network before casting a wider net," he says. Being part of an on-line business network also keeps e-mail and contact information up-to-date, and helps build what he calls "the web of trust."

In fact, LinkedIn just formalizes a process upheld by all good networkers, says Mueller. That includes keeping networks up-to-date, periodically contacting people, and working to expand one's network by querying members and sharing it with trusted colleagues and friends. "In terms of convenience, it can't be beat," says Juiced's Tribe. "If you have 10 minutes at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, you can go in there, post to a couple of discussion groups, e-mail somebody, read their profile and then move on to something else."

Social networking also puts individuals closer to some people than would ever otherwise be possible. Mueller, for example, is two steps away from Corel founder Michael Cowpland. "Normally I wouldn't know how to approach him," he says. "But this way I can ask another LinkedIn member to introduce me."

But not everyone is sold on business networking. Mark Federman, a researcher at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto, says the inherent competitiveness of business stands in the way of the ethic of social networking. "In the business environment, reputation is always on the line."

On the other hand, supporters point out that a person's number of connections and contacts is considered a proxy for influence. To be successful, there needs to be "a common interest and specific interactions among the people in the network, as opposed to merely having the connections." In other words, don't expect to post your profile and reap instant results. Networking - whether virtual or realtakes work.

But for a society that already spends too much time at the computer, using the on-line world for business networking seems a logical extension. "Ten years from now contacts, costs and opportunities will be even more globally interconnected," Rubess says.

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