Monday, May 26, 2008

Hybrid Networking?

Gas prices in the United States recently reached $4 per gallon in most parts of the country. For many small business professionals, the rapid increase in gas prices has become a serious business concern, particularly for companies whose sales and support staff rely on face-to-face interaction with customers. Many companies are now evaluating the ROI of each type of 'trip' being made by employees to determine their cost-effectiveness. Daily commutes, individual sales calls and networking functions are all being scrutinized, and in many cases removed from budgets as the speculation of increased fuel costs continue.

For many professionals living in the suburbs the cost of driving their SUV (at least until they purchase a more fuel efficient car) has become a rude awakening as gas costs can often exceed $1,000 per month. Because of this, many people are beginning to take a closer look at more efficient ways of doing business. For many, working at home has become an obvious way to curb monthly fuel costs. Additionally, many companies are beginning to rely more and more on web conferencing software tools to facilitate sales meetings. Look no further than a 3-month stock chart of Citrix (maker of GoTo Meeting) to see where this is headed.

Along those same lines, online social networking for business is also witnessing an increase in traffic as professionals seek out cost-effective ways to meet new people. Fast Pitch! for example, has witnessed 300% new member growth over the past two months, the largest increase since we launched 1 1/2 years ago! It's no coincidence that this is happening while traditional networking functions are witnessing as much as a 50% decrease in attendance. Recent studies suggest...

Less people are attending networking events, tradeshows, expos and conferences, as the cost of travel (gas) continues to rise.

Similarly, a recent report also showed that LinkedIn (the online social network for your job seekers) recently saw a 361% increase in web traffic during Q1. While this could be in large part due to the fragile job market here in the U.S. (250,000 jobs lost in Q1 - people updating their resume, etc). it could also be an indicator of overall behavioral changes taking place among professionals with regards to how they conduct business and communicate with one another.

From my vantage point, I think what we're now witnessing is the beginning of what I conveniently now call the early stages of HYBRID NETWORKING - a blending and complementing of two forms of networking (online and offline) in reaction to the increased costs associated with traditional networking. Much like a Hybrid Car, most of us aren't ready to completely abandon gas (offline networking) altogether, however we realize we need to become more efficient by using technology (online networking). Similarly, for many of us in business, we cannot completely ignore the importance of offline (face to face) networking, yet we also realize that as the ROI of traveling continues to decrease, the need to discover alternative ways to communicate (online networking) will increase.

Fast Pitch! is clearly in a position to benefit from Hybrid Networking as we continue to offer more features than any other online network in the world. As I mention time and time again, we've designed Fast Pitch! to allow people (particularly small business owners) the ability to network and market their business in a more cost-effective way. Now consider this...

For less than the price of 3 gallons of gas you can meet thousands of people on Fast Pitch!

Who knows... maybe Fast Pitch! will become the Toyota Prius of networking in the coming years... :)

Good Luck!

Bill

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Fresh Coat of Paint...

Since my last post, we've been working overtime to add a host of new features to the site. As usual, everything we've added is designed to help you grow your network and market your business. However this time around, what I'm really excited about are some of the cosmetic changes we've made to the network such as 1) a re-design of our homepage and 2) a darkening of our navigation (and logo), and 3) a new tour. I don't know... to me, the network seems much more eye-popping and consistent. I'll let you be the judge.

When running an Internet business, there's always the urge to enhance the appearance of a website with the latest and greatest design elements, particularly when you're heads down in it for 10 hours per day everyday. Yet, what I've found is that it becomes risky to do so as more and more people become familiar and comfortable with the existing design. For that reason, we've always errored on the side of caution when it comes to graphic design. I can't tell you how many Interent companies I've watched make drastic changes to their website, only to watch their customers become alienated and confused.
Here's my philosophy...
Make changes only when new features and design add clear value - and never at the expense of the overall user experience

As far as functionality, here's are a few new features we've recently added that are being very well received:

1. Directory of Networks - we've created a database of over 5,000 associations, affiliations, business organizations and non-profts pages. These pages offer an excellent opportunity for our members to increase their visibility across our network by offering yet another searchable way for people in and outside of Fast Pitch! to find them. The Fast Pitch! Network directory is already the largest of it's kind on the Internet, and will ultimately become the "Google" for searching associations. Each network page links to the organizations website and features their logo. Most importantly, all of our members who are associated with these organization are featured. For an example CLICK HERE
2. Invite Your Contacts - we've drastically improved your ability to quickly invite people you already know to join you on Fast Pitch! by allowing you to access all of your contacts from other networks such as LinkedIn and multiple email platforms like Gmail and Yahoo! Since adding this feature, well over 1 million new invitations have been sent on behalf of our members looking to invite their current friends and colleagues to join FP. To see how it works CLICK HERE

3. Virtual Tradeshow / Featured Expert - in previous posts, I've already mentioned the launch of our LIVE CHAT Virtual Tradeshows (which by the way, are growing more and more popular every Thursday). As a new twist to the Virtual Tradeshows we're now Featuring an Expert which gives our members the opportunity to chat one-on-one with some of the biggest names in business. Upcoming guests already include Ivan Misner of BNI (the largest business networking organization in the world) and author/speaker Bob Burg (Endless Referrals). For more information about becoming a Featured Expert on an upcoming Virtual Tradeshow CLICK HERE

4. Inbox - we've enhanced the functionality of the Fast Pitch! inbox to allow you to more easily manage all of your incoming and outgoing messages. Messages are divided up according to the type of message (Invitation to Connect vs. Press Announcements, etc.).

5. Google Ranking - as an upgraded member, we now provide you with real-time statstics regarding your placement on Google based on a variety of keywords. As you know, as a Fast Pitch! member we continually optimize and submit your account (profile, press, etc.) to the largest search engines in the world in order to help you grow your footprint across the Internet

6. Web Links - as an upgraded member you can now add multiple web links to your profile. This is important as it provides you with the ability to receive a high quality 'linkback' from Fast Pitch! for each URL you are trying to promote. Part of how Google determines website rankings is based on how many (quality) websites you are linked from.

7. Your Network - you can now quickly see which members of your network are currently online. This gives you the ability to CHAT LIVE with each of them. Additionally, the network page has been re-organized in order to provide you with an improved visual representation of your network.

Let us know what you think!
Good Luck
Bill