Thursday, October 01, 2009

Members vs. Subscribers

One of the really interesting things about having been around as long as we have is that we have experienced what it is like to be part of a community both on and off the Internet.

As many who read this blog are aware (i.e. both of you) I started ExecuNet in 1988. Hell, now that I think of it, there were fax machines then and we still thought technology had gone beyond amazing and then along came CDs and left us speechless. Time flies as they say.

In 1995 we silently and with great trepidation turned on our website, we were concerned about a lot of things, not the least of which was losing the relationship with our members who up until that point could not become a member without actually talking to a real live person and/or getting hundreds of emails a day from high school kids with nothing better to do.

The email overload turned out not to be a problem then, but it is now with the never ending SPAM for Viagra, Rx offerings from Canada and easy money opportunities from the President of Nigeria.

While executives can now join online, we have held firmly to our belief that really effective networks/communitites (be they for business or career or both) are built and based on real relationships not simply a collection of Vcards.

I was reminded of this recently when I thought about a panel I was on some years ago wtih Craig Newmark of Craigslist and Laurel Touby, the founder of Media Bistro. The subject we discussed was the building of online communities.

Even though none of us had talked to the other about what we were going to say. The common thread was that each of our sites had grown by personal referral and personal involvement with our "community."

“Word-of-mouth” is obviously impossible to actively control, but when it works in your favor, the positive results can be quite powerful. ExecuNet was, as mentioned above, formed well before commercial Internet usage, and obviously at that time we relied heavily on referrals from our members.

Now nearly twenty-two years later, we still credit recommendations from our members for much of our success and longevity.

In today's world, the value of word-of-mouth buzz is compounded by the speed in which news travels over the Internet. My desktop blinks constatly as the "tweets" pour in.

No matter how people get here, however, I have always felt that personal referral was the most powerful advertising there is, and that is evidenced by the fact that the community we have with ExecuNet is based on the commitment that comes from being a member. That was -- and still is -- the key factor in why personal referral remains the way most of our members get here.

One of the first questions many people who contact us for the first time ask is how we measure our effectiveness as a resource for senior-level executives? My response is usually along the lines of "How did you hear of us?"

The answer more often than not is "A friend of mine told me about you." To which I then respond, "Well, you have now found a good part of the answer -- by reputation. Most people I know don't refer people to something unless they feel there is value there. I don’t, and I wouldn't expect you to either."

There is a real difference between being a member of something and simply a subscriber. Subscribers transact; members TRUST.

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