Ahh the joys of networking: huge bar tabs, drawn out circular conversations with close talkers and the otherwise socially awkward, and a fistful of business cards that won't ever see the light of day. It isn't any wonder why most job seekers would rather do anything than have forced conversations with strangers even though not a week goes by without a career expert citing the overly referenced statistic that 75-80% of jobs are typically found through networking.
Love it or hate it, networking does have some huge upsides. You can meet a ton of really interesting people and those connections can, and often do, lead to meaningful and longstanding professional relationships, job interviews, and sometimes job offers. What you might glean about an industry, job, career path, or product from a 10 minute conversation with someone might take you hours to otherwise research and read about online.
In a perfect world, we would all be good little networkers and subscribe to the concept of "building it (our network) before (we) need it" put forth by Keith Ferrazzi in the professional networking primer Never Eat Alone. We wouldn't find ourselves having to make small talk with someone that we either hope will introduce us to another connection or help land us an offer from our dream company creating self-inflicted pressure that only adds to the awkwardness. In reality, we usually decide to "build it right when we need it"--and not a second earlier.
Although LinkedIn and Facebook have helped ease some of the trepidation of networking, they are still fairly passive in nature. Thinking back over the past 18-24 months (which happened to be during the thralls of the economic depression), I can count on one hand the number of times I had someone in my network reach out to ask for an introduction to one of my other LinkedIn contacts.
Newer offerings such as Brazen Careerist's Network Roulette and Loud Mountain's referral driven talent sourcing framework leverage disruptive technology to eliminate most of the things we hate about looking for a job or growing our networks. Brazen's cut to the chase offering allows you to meet with 20 or so folks online in rapid fire 2-3 minute bursts without having to worry instead about planning an escape route while trapped in a circular conversation that isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Unlike traditional staffing firms that keep a large portion of the fees paid by hiring organizations, Loud Mountain takes a much smaller cut and instead divvies up the proceeds to compensate members who refer candidates who are successfully placed (think Amway). They also place a premium on the online reputation of their members, relying heavily on "credibility scores" that can build based on level of activity--in other words, your value and compensation is based on the success of your network (think eBay's buyer and seller ratings).
Although there will always be a place for good olde fashioned networking, disruptive technologies are giving it a run for its money. Not to mention accelerating the ways and the pace at which we connect.