Has the Internet taken the place of belly-to-belly network marketing?

At first, the question seemed simple enough to answer with a mere “No.” (Of course, that wouldn’t be much of an article.) But it’s worth remembering that for a time, it almost seemed that it might.

I was raised on belly-to-belly network marketing. Of course, we didn’t call it that. (And if we had a belly, we certainly hoped it didn’t extend out far enough to touch someone else’s belly!) We actually called it word-of-mouth marketing, which became synonymous with network marketing. It was all about relationships. We shared the business with people we knew and acquaintances, specifically people with whom we had something in common.

As we went about our daily lives, we learned how to communicate with people we didn’t know in order to find those we felt would be a fit for our business. In fact, in my first network marketing business, we didn’t even run ads. Today ads are everywhere as a way of sorting through people and creating lots of activity. But either way, it has always been relationships that provided the glue. And anyone who has ever built a network marketing business knows that the glue is critical.

Then, for a time, the Internet played a dominant recruiting role, with systems, autoresponders, powerlines and numerous expert trainings. I remember thinking, “This is so overwhelming!” especially for those people who were new to network marketing and specifically new to Internet marketing.

For a few years, it seemed to be the craze. You were led to believe that if you didn’t sponsor with an Internet-savvy recruiting organization, you didn’t have a prayer at being successful! I found it a very confusing time. I tried working leads on an Internet recruiting system just so I could say I had tried it. I found it as impersonal as running ads—but at least with an ad, you eventually talked to someone.

Before long, we found that people were falling out the back end as quickly as they were coming in the front end. Without the glue, it didn’t last.

Today, the pendulum has come back to the middle. The Internet is such a wonderful tool for communication. Because of the Internet, we can now get information to people much faster during the evaluation process, we can communicate far more time-effectively and even get people registered and started at a moment’s notice. But whether working with Internet leads or any other types of contacts, in the end it’s that live communication—whether over the Internet, over the phone or face-to-face—that really builds relationships. It has in the past and it still does today.

PAULA PRITCHARD is on the faculty of Networking University.