Why Face-to-Face Networking Still Matters in the Digital Age: Ivan MisnerLast Updated: January 1, 2021
In Part 3 of our special four-part feature on Dr Ivan Misner, the founder of Business Network International (BNI) reveals how the Internet has impacted on his global networking organisation. It’s not a matter of either face-to-face or online, it’s “both/and”, Misner insists.
In an era when so much communication is computer-mediated, one wonders whether Ivan Misner, 30 years on from establishing Business Network International (BNI), feels any particular challenge to his core principles. Naturally he has been challenged, but he calmly and firmly insists that nothing, not even the Internet, can supersede the power of face-to-face networking. In fact, he is completely unflappable in the face of questioning about the importance of face-to-face networking in the digital age.
His unflappability is unsurprising given the amount of sheer research he has undertaken, both in the course of his day to day activities with the organisation, and as the author of 20 books, including such popular titles as Networking Like a Pro: Turning Contacts Into Connections, and The 29% Solution, as well as the New York Times best-seller, Masters of Success: Proven Techniques for Achieving Success in Business and Life.
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Misner has the data and the anecdotal evidence for this, and—as in Part 1 and Part 2 of our special feature on the BNI founder—freely shares it with AGENT. The Internet has, indeed, dramatically impacted BNI, but not in the way that networking naysayers might believe, as this graph charting the growth of the organisation between 1985 and 2015 illustrates.
In the first 11 years of the organisation, BNI opened approximately 500 groups. In its second 11 years, from 1997 to 2008—a time-span that coincided with the first great exponential spike in usage of the Internet— BNI opened 5,000 groups.
It’s worth noting that in its most recent documented period—between 2012 and 2105—BNI has experienced one of its sharpest upswings in new members: approximately 4,000 groups in just three years.
“Yes, the internet has dramatically impacted BNI, but not in the way that people might think. The growth of the organisation has been astronomical. I think one of the reasons for that is that the technology of the internet has flattened the communication hierarchy, and enabled people to connect in a way they never could have before. The Internet a very powerful medium that works effectively with networking. It’s another tool… but,” Misner emphasised, “it doesn’t replace face-to-face.”
“Nothing beats face to face. Nothing. It is still the most powerful and effective way to connect with someone.”
Perhaps an even more vivid example of the significance of face-to-face networking in the digital age is the story that Misner tells “about a young, 20-something kid, who interviewed me in Stockholm for a newspaper”.
“This kid came to do the interview,” Misner recalls, “and he spent the first five minutes kind of berating me for running what he called ‘The Buggy-Whip Business of the Networking Industry’—that is what he called BNI.
“So I asked him why, and he said, ‘Well, when automobiles replaced horses and carriages, the buggy-whip business went out of business. And he said this whole face-to-face thing is the buggy-whip business of the networking industry.
“And I looked at him and said, ‘OK, so why are you here?’
“And he said, ‘Well my boss said I had to get the interview.’
“So I said, ‘Ok, I get it, you’re not impressed with the topic, that’s fine, but why are you here? It took you an hour and a half to come here, and it’s going to take you longer with traffic to get back to your office, why did you come here?’
“He didn’t even blink, and he said, ‘Well, a face to face interview is always better.’
“And I just looked at him, and shrugged… and he was like Ohhhhhh… right, I get it!
“Nothing beats face to face. Nothing. It is still the most powerful and effective way to connect with someone. So for me, the short answer to this issue of networking and the Internet is that it is not a matter of either/or… it’s not either face-to-face or online networking, but it’s both/and. Both have a place. I am extremely active online and on social media, on my Facebook page, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Both online and face-to-face support one another.
In Part 4: Ivan Misner shares the secret of work-life balance, and provides young startups with advice on setting up a business.