By Steve Dickman, CEO, CBT Advisors
October 31, 2011
We recently test-drove a new social network for biotech and pharma executives that meets a real need. The new network is called Partnering360. It was launched today by conference organizer EBD Group to coincide with the start of the BioEurope conference in Düsseldorf.
Yet MORE social networks? After Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, Quora (for nerds), Mindbloom (for spiritual networking), Xing (for silent Europeans) and Google+ (no one has figured out yet what this one is for), hasn’t that trend peaked? We think it hasn’t and P360 demonstrates why that is the case.
Before detailing what makes this network look like it will be a winner, let’s think about this apparent paradox: an organization that makes its business out of in-person partnering events is joining the headlong rush into online social networking. What are they thinking?
The thinking is actually quite clear. The people who attend partnering events are a self-selected group. They already want to be with each other. They are interested in meeting more people like them in social as well as professional settings. And their organizations often insist that they use the in-person partnering events to broaden their networks in hopes of landing new opportunities. In-person networks get bigger not just through actual partnering meetings but also via social connections – meeting at breakfast, at coffee breaks or at the evening mixers.
But those connections are often fragile. Sometimes they are not immediately work-related. And unless one is a stickler for saving and logging business cards in a contacts database and then following up, the fleeting contacts can easily be lost.
Enter Partnering360. The only participants in this network are people who have attended this group’s events – 14,000 of them at the outset. (Additional industry players may be able to join by invitation later.) Participation is not mandatory but in the early going, Anna Chrisman of EBD Group told me, hardly anyone is opting out. (Good move making the opt-in the default – that makes the platform much more useful). So there is less worry than usual about meeting the “wrong” kinds of contacts e.g. time-wasters. The “right” contacts are all there. And the software, similar to that of LinkedIn, makes it easy to find people and request to connect with them.
The Partnering360 platform, which has been months in the making, grew out of the observation by those at EBD Group that conference participants had flocked to the online partnering platform, called PartneringONE, which had been set up for the group’s frequent events. But the participants had no way to maintain their connections from one event to the next. And PartneringONE’s default was to inform all members of a company’s delegation of each member’s online contacts. That was not a recipe for taking advantage of the serendipity of chance or social meetings.
The rest of the platform is much like LinkedIn, to which some of its content can be linked. It avoids some obvious pitfalls: it costs nothing (charging for this would be a non-starter). It integrates with both LinkedIn and Twitter instead of trying to compete with them. It allows for uploading of a profile photo and other information. If you are on PartneringONE, your profile information will automatically be imported.
Research has shown that one key to benefiting from social networks, online or in-person, is the so-called “weak” connections. As consultant Stuart E. Jackson put it in a mid-October article in Bloomberg Business Week, “The power of weak connections rests on … the assumption: Don’t worry … about having a small number of close friends. Instead, concentrate on making a much larger number of acquaintances—who might be called ‘not-so-close friends.’” The reason is that this richer and more diverse set of contacts can be a source for all sorts of useful connections. That, of course, is where LinkedIn and social media tools like it come in.Before he started doubting the political import of Facebook and Twitter here, the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this power in his prescient 1999 story “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg” and the point was driven home by social network mavens Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler in their popular book Connected and Christakis’ entertaining TED talk.
Networks that enhance existing professional networks get a +1 (aka a thumbs up) in my book. Here are some areas where this one has room to grow:
- More promotional information. No, I don’t mean ads. Partnering360 is ad-free and it had better stay that way to maintain its value. But just like web sites, information companies want to share is valuable. Chrisman said that there is a plan to add paid video captures of company presentations and I believe this will be welcomed by the community.
- Real discussion groups. In my view, LinkedIn has failed at this. It seems like every group I join is soon swamped by unwanted, often overly promotional posts. Or the group goes silent. Twitter does this well but the discussions die off because they are too public and limited to 140 characters. The exclusive nature of P360 should lend itself to some productive discussions. I hope this functionality is added soon.
- Links to more platforms. I dissed Quora above but in fact it can be useful. Google+ also has promise and shares with Partnering360 some degree of self-selection.
Of course, Partnering360 faces some of the same limitations that any online medium does: this material is legally discoverable. It’s semi-public. It certainly does not enjoy the protection of the high walls of a company’s intranet. Its main challenge is how to get above and stay above the noise. But given how regularly the partnering events occur and how often my readers and I find ourselves attending them, I suspect that this platform is here to stay.