The Internet and social media networks have revolutionised the way we do business. Thanks to tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, we can now establish connections with hundreds of colleagues, suppliers and customers, at the click of a mouse.
Before the Internet and the advent of digital networking we wrote letters, made phone calls and spent a lot of time travelling to and from meetings in order to maintain relationships and drive new business. But could digital networking actually replace face-to-face networking?
Digital networking certainly has its benefits; it presents no geographic boundaries; it’s available 24/7 – you can network online when you want, for as long as you want; it’s cheap – social media networks are mostly free to join and after that, they simply require time, which of course is a valuable commodity. However, there are an ever increasing range of tools and services available to help us manage our social media time commitment in a more efficient way e.g. Hootsuite, Feedalpha etc.
Face-to-face networking can also be a daunting prospect for some who feel challenged at the prospect of ‘working a room’. It can be far easier to present a controlled, mistake-free, version of ourselves through our social media from the comfort and safety of our computers.
Having spent the last 25 years working internationally in a broad range of industries, I’ve become convinced that networking, whether it’s online or offline, is key to the development of any successful business. My passion for networking led me to establish TheNetworkingSummit, which brings together experts in the fields of networking, communications, performance and branding to educate attendees on how they can drive impact through business networking.
The team at TheNetworkingSummit recently asked over 300 Irish professionals their views on social media networking versus face-to-face networking and the majority (79%) said they felt face-to-face was more effective. So why is it that, despite all of the obvious benefits of digital networking, people still feel the need to network off-line?
Perhaps the single biggest factor is trust. Technology simply can’t compete with body language and all the other subtle signals of real life – eye contact, a handshake – which communicate to others that you are trustworthy, competent, friendly and someone they could work with. When it comes to networking for career growth, employers or peers are very unlikely to offer you or recommend you, for a job if they’ve never met you, regardless of how strong your LinkedIn profile might be.
Face-to-face networking allows us to build relationships. It can be easy to create an illusion of a strong network on social media, but if you’re not translating those connections into relationships in real life, they will simply remain online acquaintances.
If you are new to face-to-face networking it can be an intimidating prospect. In my experience, if you are at the ‘right’ events, your concerns will be quickly allayed. The key to success, like most things in life, is preparation. Don’t simply sign up for the first networking opportunity you see. There is nothing worse than discovering that you’ve given your valuable time and money to be in a room full of the ‘wrong’ people.
Research each prospective networking event; the speakers, the workshops etc. to ensure that it’ll attract the type of professional people you want to meet. Most importantly understand the prospective take-outs from the event and if they fit with your wider goals. Have a clear plan of what you want to achieve on the day and/or who you want to meet, which will enable you to review the effectiveness post-event.
Kingsley Aikens, founder of The Networking Institute and one of the experts at TheNetworkingSummit, says: “It’s not what you know, it’s not even who you know, it’s who knows you!” a statement which 58% of our survey respondents strongly agreed with. Online and off-line networking are both hugely effective ways of driving career and business growth. It is not a case that one should replace the other, but rather they should support each other to achieve the best results.
I now use social media tools and search criteria to research new people to meet offline, e.g. potential suppliers, potential clients, potential speakers for an event. I then ask if we can meet for coffee or perhaps we’re both attending the same industry event, for example – the perfect place to meet up.
If I meet new people at an event, the first thing I do when I return to my office is continue the conversation. I’ll follow up on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn. Most importantly I’ll personalise my connection request referencing how we met or something we discussed. I’ll then continue the relationship through social media until the next time we speak or meet.
So, don’t let social media replace face-to-face networking – use it to enhance your business relationships and you’ll soon see the results.
Siobhan Fitzpatrick is founder of TheNetworkingSummit, which takes place on Friday, 27th September at The Carlton Hotel, Dublin Airport. The panel of inspirational speakers is led by adventurer and former pro rugby player Damian Browne. Tickets for TheNetworkingSummit, which include all presentations, 2 x 60 min bespoke masterclasses and a seated lunch are priced at €200 and are available from www.thenewtorkingsummit.com.
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