Finding and building connections through an online networking platform has become more and more popular for many business people in our increasingly globalized world. Business relationships that would have once been unthinkable can now be created through the Internet, opening up new opportunities that would have been impossible just three or four decades ago.
And the key to this proliferation of relationship-building has been the online networking platform, pioneered by LinkedIn. As often happens, however, alternatives to LinkedIn have sprung up and so I thought that it might be interesting to compare the six most capable – not most popular – online networking platforms.
What is Online Networking?
Before we launch into the comparison of the best networking platforms available, we need to define what online networking is so that it can be used as the yardstick against which each platform can be measured.
While online networking is similar to offline networking (i.e. networking at events and meetups), it is not simply networking online. There are a few significant differences between these two networking “modes” which necessitate a change in approach and exemplify the importance of follow-through. In fact, nowadays, even business relationships that start with a face-to-face meeting are continued online for the most part.
Networking online requires more tact, more patience and more perseverance than does in-person networking as you cannot rely upon your personality, gestures and expressions, nor the rapport and immediacy between you and the person you are interacting with, to make an impression.
That said, you are able to plan your interactions and add value that your network connection will appreciate when networking online. You also have the luxury of being able to reach out regularly to your connections whenever you need to, which is not always possible with in-person networking relationships, especially where you do not live in the same region as your connection.
Online Networking is NOT Social Media
One distinction that needs to be made right off the bat is that a networking platform is not a social media platform. While most social media platforms can be used for “light” networking (communicating) through groups or messaging facilities, they have not been developed to support the development of relationships over time.
The truth is that even most of the stalwart online networking platforms like LinkedIn are kitted out with only light networking systems. Although you can ostensibly network on platforms like Facebook, Quora, and even Instagram, they are socially orientated – in contrast to being business orientated – and so won’t be included here.
The Focus Here is on Online Networking Platforms
I will be comparing only online networking platforms that have, as a primary purpose, the building of personal business networks rather than simply allowing members to participate in an online community. I will also be excluding job-seeking or CV builder websites as they have a different slant to purely being networking focused platforms. So, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Quora will not be included.
I will compare the most effective online networking platforms along the following lines (see the table below the discussion about each platform for the results of the comparison);
- Whether or not they have tools to engage with other members of their community.
- Whether or not there are restrictions on engaging with other members of the community as well as what engagement tools are available (content posting, discussions, community support and so on).
- Whether or not they have a mobile app.
- Whether or not a user can build profiles of their connections and collect and save data about them.
- Whether or not a user can rate and rank connections.
- Whether or not the user will be reminded when they should reconnect with their connections.
- Whether or not there are tools or interfaces through which the user can ask for help from other members and/or provide help to other members.
- Whether or not they can build profiles of network connections outside the platform.
Let’s get on with the list then.
Run The World, the Newcomer
Run the World is a newcomer to the world of networking, and while it is essentially an online platform through which people can organize virtual events, it offers some rather nifty networking tools.
Like most virtual conferencing and event platforms, Run the World allows you to attend virtual events to see and hear presentations by thought leaders and influencers. However, unlike other similar platforms, it offers the ability to break away from the main event to “face time” with other attendees.
You can also attend virtual “happy hours” – small groups where attendees can interact socially. This makes networking face-to-face easy and effective and is so much better than what many other platforms offer.
Although it is still new, Run the World promises to evolve into a powerful player on the networking scene. The team behind it have committed themselves to expanding their platform’s capabilities, so watch this space.
- It offers the opportunity to network face-to-face.
- It also allows attendees to meet up in small groups.
- According to the testimonials on the site, it is slick and easy to use.
- It’s affordable.
- It’s new and so its value as a networking platform must still be borne out.
- It requires an event to be organized before any networking can take place.
- You need to be invited to an event. You can’t just “rock up”.
- It’s not set up as a dedicated networking platform – networking is a by-product.
LinkedIn, the Heavyweight
If you are in business, you are most probably on LinkedIn. This is the “king of the hill” as far as online networking platforms go. Its greatest drawcard, from a networking perspective, is its large community.
It offers precious few actual networking tools, save for messaging options, a network search function and layered connection system that allows you to see how many degrees of separation you are away from a particular person. However, with a paid membership, you are allowed to send a limited number of “in-mails”, messages that can be sent to any other members, whether they are connected to you or not.
It has become the de facto global business networking tool and certainly does have its benefits. However, it lacks any sort of profile building or relationship tracking tools.
- Huge community
- Quite straightforward to use
- Has an app
- Limited dedicated networking tools
- Expensive paid membership
Meetup, the Traditionalist
Meetup is a popular online networking platform with a twist; you don’t network on the platform. It’s basically an event or meetup organizing tool allowing members to meet others with similar interests. As such, it has become a popular and easy way to organize networking meetups. Many people feel that networking face-to-face is the only way to network properly.
Although not a dedicated networking site per se, it is possible to use it to find and attend networking meetups.
- Large community
- Easy to create any kind of meetup literally anywhere.
- Has an app
- Not an actual networking platform, so no networking tools outside a basic messaging system.
Shapr, the Millennial
Shapr is an app-based networking platform that uses the Tinder-like swiping action to approve or reject potential connections. The app is one of the few platforms that are purpose-built for networking and allows users to connect with others who share interests, profession or location.
You are required to complete your profile and after that you can either get automatically matched with 15 people each day according to the information on your profile, or you can search for particular characteristics in potential connections.
Membership is free but there is a paid upgrade that unlocks some features. Overall, Shapr is an interesting solution that has seen a fair bit of hype over the last year or two. However, looking at the reviews of the app indicates that many users are unhappy with the low quality of members who only seem interested in selling to you. It’s a pity and a lesson, perhaps, that a rigid selection process is required to maintain the quality of the community.
- Slick and modern looking. Cool to use. It certainly has a “cool factor”.
- App based
- Fairly large community.
- Lacks relationship building and tracking tools.
- Has limited functionality for building robust connections.
Ryze, the Professional
Ryze was one of the first dedicated networking websites, having been started in 2001. It is aimed at professionals who want to set up their own business networks outside LinkedIn.
The site is a little dated and with a membership of around 500 000 (apparently), it is smaller than some other platforms, but it is by far the most established. It seemed that they started building an app for Ryze, but that seems to have petered out. The features are fairly limited, being focused on finding prospective connections within their community. How you do that is left up to you.
- Focused on network building
- Smaller community
- No app
Xing, the Foreigner
Popular in Germany and other European countries, Xing is a competitor to LinkedIn on most fronts. It is modern and slick but has dedicated networking tools.
- Great for finding events and getting international jobs.
- Fairly small community compared to LinkedIn.
- Limited dedicated network building tools.
Let’s compare the networking tools offered by the platforms described above.
|Run the World||Meetup||Shapr||Ryze|
|Profile Building Tools|
|Connection Ranking Tools|
|Community Support Tools|
|Off-Site Profile Building Tools|
|Max. Membership Fee (Monthly)||US$799.00+||US$29.99+||US$9.99+||US$19.99||US$9.95||Ads|
More of a place to find and connect with other businesses for the purpose of closing deals, Enterprise League could still be seen as a networking platform.
The offering seems fairly substantial, with features like a detailed company profile builder, a powerful search feature that helps you find the right partners, as well as a place to find deals in the offing. It also offers the ability to organize and track all of your business partners in one place.
There is a free tier and the paid option seems affordable.
- A good set of features
- A free tier
- Seems to promote its members’ products and companies effectively
- It has a fair number of users
- It could be seen as just a directory site, although it does have other features
- We are unsure what the quality would be of the deals you could find inside.
Brella is an enterprise real world and video conference and networking platform that is packed full of awesome features. Similar in some ways to Run the World, it is geared towards corporate users. It’s feature list includes everything you may need to run an engaging and professional event.
Of particular note are the built-in networking features that allow you get matched with others at the event and then to arrange to meet them in breakaways, either in-person or through video chat.
The big downside is the price. The only publicly available pricing starts at US$3000 but I am not sure if that’s a once off (I don’t think so, somehow), or annual or monthly fee. Anyway you slice it. it’s high. However, if you are playing in the big leagues, Brella may be what you are looking for.
- Suited to in-person, virtual, or hybrid events.
- Has its own dedicated apps for Apple and Android.
- Has networking features built-in.
- Includes comprehensive reporting.
- The price.
Another new player in the online business networking space, Bizfluence is an ambitious project seemingly attempting to offer what LinkedIn does not. Although still being rolled out, its roadmap indicates that it will offer a range of features, some of which include;
- Direct messaging
- Mobile App
- Monetizing of influence
- Business marketplace
- Virtual currency
- Recruitment tools
- Consulting system
- App store, and more.
As you can see, it certainly has great potential if the developers and those running it can pull it off.
- It is certainly ambitious.
- A long list of planned facilities.
- No idea about price.
- No information about the site of those behind it. All it seems to be now is a signup page.
Although some people claim you can network on Facebook, it must be said that it is not an effective platform for networking. This is primarily because it is socially oriented. Finding the right people with the right skills and experience is difficult, and the only way to network with any degree of efficiency is to do so in the groups that are available – which are a hit-and-miss affair.
That said, however, if you have the right kind of business and a loyal, active following willing to personally refer you to their friends or others they know, it is possible that Facebook could be a good option.
However, I would caution against using Facebook exclusively for networking.
Although is strictly a messaging platform, Twitter can have some utility as a networking platform as you can find and communicate with virtually anyone on the platform. Like LinkedIn, Twitter’s value is in the size of its user base, with most people you want to know having an account. However, unless you know the name of the person you are looking for, Twitter is not a great option. It also – obviously – has no business or industry search features.
It’s strength as a platform is its simplicity, but from a networking point-of-view, that is its greatest weakness.
Unfortunately, outside of LinkedIn, the existing online networking platforms available are limited in their effectiveness, Outside of creating a community within which users can find new people to network with, most offer few relationship-building tools. Most of these platforms seem on the wane, except LinkedIn and Tribemine, although the latter has yet to prove itself. Do you use any of these platforms? If so, feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.