Are You Accepting New Clients? How Referral Key Stacks Up Against LinkedIn for Professional Business Networking, Part II

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Referral Key grows your business through referrals. On this site you give and receive referrals and you can get rewards for referrals you give. Mashable says: “The concept of this service is solid and if referrals can generate significant amounts of revenue then it makes sense to sign up…it could pay off big time as well.”

You might recognize requests coming via Referral Key – the subject line of the invitation e-mail asks, “Are you accepting new clients?”  We completely agree with Mashable on this one – the concept of the service is great.  What we’ve seen happen in practice, however, is different than what we believe the real value of the site could become.

For instance, we’ve received numerous requests from people we don’t know to join their referral network.  A true “referral” network, in our opinion, would contain business people you know and would trust to refer within your network.  As more and more requests come through from people we’ve never met, the value of the site is diminished.

Another issue with Referral Key is that when we do accept an invitation from someone we actually know, Referral Key sends us an e-mail inviting us to connect with all of THEIR connections – regardless of whether we know them or not.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, offers the same capabilities to build a referral network (minus the rewards piece), while maintaining network integrity by allowing us to indicate when we receive requests from people we do not know.  LinkedIn was designed to connect people who know each other, along with a mechanism for “punishing” those who abuse the system.

While time will tell with Referral Key, our recommendation is to stick with LinkedIn and develop a strong presence there (instead of trying to participate in too many similar sites and diminishing your effectiveness on all of them).

Use the “Introductions” feature to your advantage to refer people within your network and to receive referrals to business people who can help your company grow.  LinkedIn’s recent IPO and influx of cash will help them innovate, and we expect to see them grow significantly in terms of users as well as features that they offer.  With over 100 Million users, LinkedIn does it right, and is still the strongest professional business networking site around.

Next Steps:  Make sure you are getting everything you can from LinkedIn and using it to it’s fullest potential.

Once you know that’s the case, evaluate Referral Key.  Determine if there are a significant number of potential referral partners or prospects using the site that you can’t reach on LinkedIn.  If so, begin using Referral Key on a limited basis in tandem with LinkedIn, and test your results.

Remember, while the sites are free to participate in, your time invested has a value associated with it.  Make sure you’re investing your time wisely and that you are making strategic decisions about your use of social media, and you’ll have a much greater chance of seeing the returns you are looking for.

06.29.2011

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