The idea of business networks like LinkedIn has been to virtually connect your business contacts for networking – similar to social networks like Facebook which have been about virtually connecting to your friends to stay in touch. So far, this has been pretty much a one way street of bringing your real life connections into the virtual world.
But the other way of taking a virtual connection point and bringing it back into real life has tremendous potential as well. Start-ups like Nextdoor use your local community as connection point, bringing neighbors together in real life through a platform. Facebook has started to copy this idea, letting you ask for recommendations in your local community, organize community events etc. It’s almost ironic: Because everyone stares on their screen there is almost no by-chance communication and getting to know each other anymore, so technology (which created this problem in the first place) now helps you solve that too. But enough of that, back to the topic of how you can use a virtual connection point to build real life connections.
Everyone knows the network effect: The value of a business network increases with every virtual connection you make. But in order to make a virtual connection you need to know this person in real life first. While we all know the one person who is great at networking, the truth is that most people aren’t. You might feel uncomfortable approaching strangers, not have the time… The irony is that the non-networkers will profit the most from a large virtual network as networkers have no problem approaching people “out of the blue”. This is a huge growth inhibitor for business networks as the attractiveness and stickiness of their product requires more and more connections.
So here’s my idea: Use the company you work at as a virtual connection point to connect people within your company. Most companies organize a lot of “get to know each other” meetings when you first start at your job. This helps you start building your network but after a month you are out on your own. If you are not a great networker, chances are that you will have lunch at the cafeteria / go out for lunch with the same crowd every single day. But how about using your lunch break to get to know someone new in your company every week? Think of a little feature that allows you to opt in to a lunch networking date at a fixed time. This feature would create a win-win-win situation: A win for the user, as you can build your network without feeling awkward approaching strangers, a win for the business network as users build more connections, and a win for the company as creating connections within a company strengthens the business. I would even go so far to say that if such a feature were available, many companies would make the use “mandatory” for new employees in order to build their company network. Hey, they might even sponsor the lunch. There is free lunch after all :)