The inspiration for this came from Thomas Power – Chairman and Founder of Ecademy. A key value driver there is the large number of face to face meetings they organise between members.
Meetings are good because they encourage loyalty and you can charge for them. They are a bit old school and are difficult to organise and difficult to scale – but then building a business isn’t supposed to be easy, and once you’ve done it you have a barrier to entry and source of sustainable advantage. Something that social networks struggle with at the moment.
The other thing about meetings is that they seem to be the logical next step on from online networking. Without them you are left with adverts and promotions.
This doesn’t work for all networks (e.g. Bebo is focused on schools and they see each other every day anyway) but is a large part of the story at Ecademy.
By way of anecdotal evidence two of the most useful professional networks I belong to are Internet People managed by Robert Loch where the format is sitting down to dinner once a month and Mobile Monday where 100-200 people gather every month for presentations and networking drinks. Both face to face networks.