TECHNOLOGY

The Brutal Truth About Networking Apps Everyone Needs to Hear

Tech companies should have the goal of taking networking offline, where meaningful relationships can blossom.

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BY David Olk - 06 Dec 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Professional networking: You know it's something you should be doing, so why do you dread it? Maybe because professional networking has become more like a video game where you're amassing connections like points, trying to top the leaderboard, instead of making meaningful connections.

If you're like most people, you probably find yourself using LinkedIn to regularly connect with people you hardly know (but you're not sure why). As a result, business networking loses its authenticity and is promulgated with professional spam. I'm not sure about your LinkedIn inbox, but mine is flooded with messages from biz dev people hawking irrelevant information. There's Svetlana in Croatia trying to sling me developers (hint: that's not Svetlana).

None of us need more email in our lives.

When you do try to use it as a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, or an opening to connect with another person, you quickly realize the holes.

Me: "Hey Jen, I see you're connected to Melinda. I'd love to get in touch with her to talk about her new fund. Can you connect us?"

Jen: "I have no idea who Melinda is or how I'm connected to this person. Sorry!"

That's why online networking works only if it leads to building authentic relationships offline. Don't get me wrong, platforms like LinkedIn help make introductions, but it doesn't go far enough to matter. Luckily, more and more tech companies are catching on.

1. Bumble

Bumble just entered the career space with its new app Bumble Bizz. Women swipe to find other professional female connections and mentors based on resume tidbits, industry info, and other personal stats. If you're on the platform, there's an understanding that you're there to help one another with your careers.

2. Shapr

Similarly, Shapr is embracing the swiping culture made popular by the dating app Tindr. Shapr, which quietly re-launched in 2016, pairs each of its users with 15 new connections daily, selected via algorithm through matching interests or career success. Its users swipe right or left to signal the matches they're interested in meeting.

3. CityHour

CityHour has been working to tap into the power of LinkedIn to generate more face-to-face interaction. The app syncs with your LinkedIn profile and connects you with other professionals looking to meet in person to talk shop. In just a few taps, you can connect with someone new and schedule a time to discuss career goals, ask important questions, or learn more about a specific role or company.

4. Topi

Finally, there's Topi, which connects people who are attending the same event or conference. Their goal is to make those often anonymous experiences more social and, thus, a better professional opportunity.

It's too early to tell whether these apps will actually be able to accomplish what LinkedIn hasn't, but they all seem to understand the need for building more authentic professional relationships in person. That's what works. And we should use technology to make that easier and more distributed. Technology and apps should help move the professional social graph offline because that's where the career magic happens.

Professionals with common goals should always meet in person.

Why? Here's a stark reality for all the middle managers out there: When you get to a certain place in your career, it's assumed you know how to do the job. It's all the other things that separate you: who you know, being one of the most important and underrated. Who you know and what management thinks of you at some point matters more than your ability to do the work (unless you want to stay rank and file).

When I became a senior manager at PwC, it was assumed I was a pretty good accountant (fooled them all, muhahah). You get to the next level because the partners are convinced you can bring in business, the clients know you and like you, and that you have the relationships and the network to bring people with you on the journey.

That's why networking is everything. Authentic relationships are everything. Perception is reality. If any new or growing networking apps are going to work they need to recognize this and focus on facilitating meetups to propel people to help one another and to create business bonds that last.

If the app simply connects a bunch of people that should "know" each other, then it's a waste of time.