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The Original Social Network

One of the things I enjoy about college football’s bowl week is that with so many games on, I rarely have to sit through a commercial. Instead, I just switch to the next game. However, one game this week had no other game to switch to, so I was forced to suffer the ads. One that caught my eye was for a website called Thumbtack. Thumbtack promises that “From house painting to personal training, we bring you the right pros for every project on your list.” You can add them to the unending list of websites and social media platforms that all try to do the same thing – connect you to someone with whom you can do business locally. What a novel idea!

The Chamber has been doing just that very thing for nearly 125 years. There are, however, some important distinctions between online networking and networking through the Chamber. Consider these:

It’s Personal – Chamber members operate in the real world. They meet each other face to face. They shake hands and converse, which leads to a deeper knowledge of each other’s business and a higher level of trust. Virtual networking is just that, virtual. It’s not real and always leaves a shadow of doubt regarding the credibility of the other party.

It’s Local – Most online sites claim to be “local”, but are they really? Their definition of local could be eastern Mass., whereas the Chamber’s is clearly defined by our service area. Our members live here and do business here.

“Trusted” Reviews – One of my biggest pet peeves of online reviews is their validity. When people can post their views anonymously are they really to be trusted? Just look at Yelp to see the wide variation of reviews given to the same establishments. Who knows what motivation the reviewers have or what their expectations were. Networking through the Chamber gives you first-hand information about a business from people you know and can trust. To me that is invaluable.

Time Sensitive – Finding a product or service online is much quicker and easier than attending a Chamber event. Or is it? How easy is it to get sucked in to reading review after review on a business? I know people who spend hours on Facebook or elsewhere researching one thing before veering off into all the other wonders of the internet. Alternately, a Chamber meeting might take two hours of time, but it is focused networking time that leads to new relationships with scores of people. And you don’t end up watching countless videos of cats playing the piano or skateboarding accidents.

To be sure many of these online options have certain benefits in certain situations. But as we enter a new year and the list of apps, websites and social media options continues to grow, I urge you consider the original social network, the Chamber of Commerce. Make a commitment to attend a few events this year and grow your network with real people, live and in person. You’ll enjoy some time away from the computer screen and make meaningful relationships to grow your business.

Happy New Year!