“Andy is an energetic presenter who quickly captured our audience's attention. The content of his presentation was excellent and fostered lively commentary and questions. We will definitely have Andy back for another session and are looking for other ways to partner with him. ”
Jennifer Rademaker, Head of Strategy Development Europe, MasterCard
“Andy Lopata is a true role model for any aspiring professional speaker in my view ”
Heather Townsend, author of The Financial Times Guide to Business Networking
“Andy is really engaging and left the audience wanting more which is a rarity when you work in Finance! He is extremely professional and personable and it felt like Andy really knew the topics and had researched the audience. ”
Nicola Hradek, Co-Chair HSBC Balance Employee Network
“In the three months since Andy delivered his sessions, I've noticed a clear change in the approach taken by everyone who participated. We have already received a number of referrals as a result. ”
Andy O'Sullivan, Head of Sales - Hospitality, Wembley Stadium
“I have already received three emails and two telephone calls from attendees who have expressly advised that as a direct result of the presentation they will without doubt be changing the way in which they network. A huge success. ”
Michael Strawbridge, Head of Member Services, Learning and Performance Institute
“Andy worked with my business partner and me for a number of months as a referral and networking coach. Our business has demonstrably grown due to the new techniques and skills learned through working with Andy. ”
Dan Hall, Financial Advisor, Merrill Lynch
“In the pre-event correspondence, you were the most professional speaker we’ve ever had. By asking great questions as you did, it helped to make us more professional event organisers. ”
Jackie Barrie, Co-President, Professional Speaking Association South East England
“At each stage of the event from planning to delivery to follow up, Andy’s approach was extremely impressive. He spent time at the outset understanding us, the way we work and our key objectives and this continued with discussions with us in the run up to the event to shape the session to our needs. ”
Andrew Kelly, Director Human Capital Services, BDO llp
“Andy has successfully elevated networking into more of a strategic arena ...................rather than it just being a "skills" thing. ”
Phil Jesson, Director of Speaker Development Academy for Chief Executives
“'Networking' as a topic can often seem forced... about tools and techniques to 'work a room' or 'get noticed' - Andy's take on it in this talk was so far removed from the glib truisms we've all heard before. ”
Bryony Thomas, Watertight Marketing
“Andy, thanks again for making our Balance HK event a huge success. The audience gave you their undivided attention and you could hear a pin drop when you were speaking. I have never witnessed that before, with a room of 170+ people! ”
Maggie Suttie, Chair Balance Network, HSBC Hong Kong
“The process to gaining the right referrals does not happen overnight, but executing Andy’s strategy into your daily business routine will lead to referral success. ”
Tom Price LLB DipPFS Hodgson Wealth Management
“I would not be exaggerating in saying that last night was the most well received and successful event YEN London has had in over two years. ”
Jairo Jaramillo - Chairman, London Young Engineers Network
“The feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive and we will continue to run the training in other offices in EMEA. ”
Astrid Huijssoon, Senior Marketing Manager Cross Border Trade - PayPal CEMEA
“I found the session with Andy really interesting and helpful. It offered a different perspective to development sessions I have been to before and it made me really think about how I was positioning myself at work and what I needed to be doing differently. ”
Tori Henderson, Senior Public Policy Manager HSBC
“Andy certainly made a difference on how I normally approach / perceive events such as this. ”
Ann Azzopardi, Category Buying Manager, Pret a Manger
“There are many motivational speakers on the circuit who leave behind them just a short lived glow and then there are the subject matter pragmatic, passionate presenters who can potentially change the long term way their audience thinks or operates. I’d put Andy Lopata in the latter category. ”
Trevor Salomon – Director, Corporate Marketing, IFS
“The feedback we received from members was overwhelmingly positive, making it one of the best sessions we had all year. ”
Aileen Parsons, Relationship Manager - Strategic Client Services, Paypal
“It was the best talk I’ve ever been to. Loved the content, pacing, delivery, structure. Your message was very memorable (imparting that much information can leave listeners forgetting what was said) and you managed the balance between substance, detail and memorability well. ”
Rebecca Aguilar, BBC Worldwide
“Andy’s style suited our company values perfectly as it is very much based around letting people learn at their own pace and be part of the sessions instead of just being presented to. There was a mixture of experience, job roles, nationalities and seniority in the room and Andy ensured that everyone felt this training was directed at them, such is his way with words. ”
Robert Kenward, Global Development Director, Banks Sadler
“I would recommend Andy to come and spend time with any team that wants to maximize the time of its busy people out in the market ”
Tomas Freyman, Partner, Valuations. BDO llp
“Wherever I go, Andy is held in very high regard and I can personally endorse him as someone who is easy to do business with, professional and also great to work with. ”
Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director, Brother UK
“"I was captivated by Andy's insightful and thought-provoking workshop. You could feel the energy in the room at the end. Several people commented that the event had changed their lives!" ”
Miranda Abraham, Chair, Women in Banking and Finance
“As a direct result of Andy’s workshop, we are now implementing a “networking strategy” that is aligned to supporting our key business goal. Andy’s advice/insights have made me re-think all my customer interactions and even in the short term I am getting results. ”
Adam Newman, Health Outcomes Consultant, GSK
“There is a handful of people who I would consider really an expert in networking, and Andy is one of the few people on that list. ”
Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and CEO, BNI
“Andy has a can do and flexible attitude and is happy to develop and shape the content in line with the clients changing needs. Feedback from participants on Andy's workshops has been consistently very positive. ”
Una Murphy, Manager BBC Careerlink
“It is great to work with a speaker like Andy who really wants to understand the audience he speaks to and tailors his content to them. ”
Galina Lebedeva, Education & Events Senior Co-ordinator, Wella UK & Ireland
“Andy's 'The Networking Mindset' networking event was fascinating. I've been to loads of networking events over the years which are always full of people who don't quite know why they're there.... myself included. ”
Nicholas Harkin, Head of Risk & Governance at Close Brothers Retail Finance
“Several people were surprised to find out that Andy didn’t work in our sector as he related his knowledge so well and confidently, which was key to getting the audience to buy into his advice. ”
Suzanne Rowse, Director, British Boarding Schools Workshop
“Andy's enthusiastic and interactive presentation at our National conference was very much appreciated by all and his series of workshops for my leadership team has been put to significant positive use. ”
Shona MacDonald, Business Director UK & Ireland, Wound Care. Molnlycke Health Care
“Not only my individual life has had a total makeover after I met Andy, as a result of my personal improvement, the networks that I lead are now making a much bigger impact in the society. I can never thank Andy enough and would highly recommend him any time without hesitation. ”
Ruth Lau, Central Marketing, HSBC Private Bank

Is Ecademy's brand value a true reflection of what it can offer to members?

I had an interesting meeting with Ecademy CEO Glenn Watkins earlier this week. Glenn and I have known each other for a number of years and always enjoy our all-to-infrequent catch-ups.

On this occasion, Glenn asked me for my perception of Ecademy in the general marketplace. Although Ecademy clearly provides a lot of value, including substantial value to my business, I don't think it is sufficiently well-positioned in the public's mind. In this sense, the site suffers the same fate as many other networks, both online and off.

As I have often stated, people are joining networks because they are invited and not because they have aligned the benefits of their membership with challenges they are facing in their business. Even when they do have a benefit in mind, such as new business development, I believe that many fail because of a lack of strategic thinking. Little focus is given to exactly how the network they have joined can help and what they must do within the network to ensure those results.

In my opinion all networks, both online and face to face, need to focus more on the value they add to people's businesses and less on their features if they want to win over the cynics. People are being turned away from Ecademy, LinkedIn, BNI and others because of the mass of functionality/formats available, and general noise. The message they need to hear FIRST, is "This is the difference participation in this network will make to your business".

I have written elsewhere about the different reasons we network. In general people network for one, or a combination, of three reasons. We network to become:

- Better known (profile building)

- Better equipped (brain building)

- Better connected. (referral building)

If you understand how each of these areas are relevant to your business you can look to networking events and networks and ask how they can then help you overcome your challenges. Your networking strategy can then be built around your individual challenges and how each network might help you overcome them.

Different people will join networks for different reasons. For example, for me LinkedIn is a referral-building network (helping me become better connected). Twitter helps me build my profile (becoming better known in the process) while Mastermind groups I join help me overcome my challenges (better equipped). That doesn't mean that I won't get other benefits from each of the networks I join, but I do understand my primary reason for being there.

In conversation with Glenn, we identified that Ecademy is strong in all three areas. The challenge is communicating those effectively to both existing and potential members so that everyone understands how to maximise the value from the site. You could, quite easily, use Ecademy for all three areas. The difference is the understanding of what you are trying to achieve and how your activity helps towards that goal.

If you wanted to raise your profile using Ecademy, you have the ability to blog and comment on blogs. You can seek out the groups that reflect the area in which you want to raise your profile, whether geographic, industry specific or interest specific. Ecademy have just introduced Company Profiles, which can take your profile to another level, while the SEO optimisation on the site, together with integration with other social networks such as Twitter, help to spread your name beyond the confines of the network.

If you are looking for brain-building and personal development once again Groups come in handy. Find the groups populated by people with the expertise you seek and ask questions and follow the debates. You can do the same with blogs and polls while the live events, such as Blackstar Boardrooms and Training events introduce you to people who are happy to help you overcome your challenges.

I am a member of Wild Card Pack (WCP), a group on Ecademy who, among other activities, meet every month to brainstorm members' challenges and will also offer support through the forum on Ecademy. Members of WCP helped me to turn around my business when I was focusing on the wrong areas and was one of the groups of people I turned to for feedback on my new website before launching it this week.

Most of my referrals come through Ecademy. They have come through building trust and developing relationships with fellow members over the years I have been involved. Many of those relationships have been accelerated by membership of Blackstar and, through that, WCP. You can't rely on the site itself to build the levels of trust needed to develop a referral relationship with someone, you need to meet regularly face to face. But the site does help to both bring like-minded people together and to maintain a presence in each others' minds when you are not in direct communication.

There is tremendous value to be found in membership of networks like Ecademy, but my fear is that they are being obscured by the noise made by mass-connecting without engaging, spam messages and self-promotion.

More effort is needed by people who truly understand networking to get the message across about where the value truly lies. It is in all of our interests to guide and educate people to use networks effectively. As we do that, there will be less noise and more people who understand the value of co-supportive relationships and network with more focus.

Comments

Really interesting piece,

Really interesting piece, thank you. I read this as I have just been invited to join Ecademy (by someone I do not know, but I follow his company on Twitter). My immediate reaction was to sign up because it seems rude not to accept an invitation to something (I wonder if this is a very British thing!)
I paused just before I started to sign up and looked on the site for clues about what joining up could do for me - precisely the 3 things you mention in your article - but was disappointed that there is no relevant information on the site. For now, I have chosen not to sign up.
Perhaps Ecademy could raise their profile by showing these benefits up front and more clearly. Don't assume that everybody knows who they are and what they do!

According to Quantcast,

There are no tangible

There are no tangible benefits for members which is why the Ecademy do not publish them. Reading posts from the two people who run the Ecademy Penny and Thomas Power, the whole benefit of the place is in being nice, meeting people and having oodles of emotional wealth.

The Ecademy is composed of a large number of sellers and a very small number of buyers. The membership churn rate is massive if you look at the member id's you will see them in the 300,000 to 400,000 range but closer inspection show that the lower the number the less members there are and less frequently they access the site. It is an Ecademy policy never to remove people from the database once registered, sort of Hotel California, and there are at least two people on the site who are known to be dead.

In spite of the high numbers quoted the actual active membership is only a few thousand, and most of those are concentrated in the South East of the UK in spite of the fact that the Ecademy claims to have members from more countries than there are countries in the world.

The current move is to get members to sign up to BlackStar membership for approx £50 per month and then sell more services, BS boardroom into this membership on and "exclusive" and "accelerated " networking tag. BS membership benefits are also loosely defined with little proof of success and mainly anecdotal evidence to it efficacy, other than of course being nice.

I think we have to be careful

I think we have to be careful to separate the purpose of the article, which is to look at how social networks market themselves and communicate the benefits of membership, with personal views on the way Ecademy is run.

I do think there are benefits to membership of Ecademy, as outlined in my article, but don't feel that many members focus on how best to achieve these or that non-members understand they exist.

The suggestion that Ecademy's membership numbers may be in decline can be seen as a symptom of this perception.

The proof of the pudding is

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

I am one of many people who used to get value out of Ecademy. We knew how to use it all right, and it delivered all the benefits you've outlined.

But now it does not. It delivers benefits for Blackstars like yourselves, and for those who like to hang around blogging.

For the rest of us, 'it is finished', and we move on.

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