By Justin Goldsborough | September 7, 2010
Networking online is easy. I’m not saying it doesn’t involve effort or take a lot of time. I often spend double-digit hours networking online a week and I know many others that do that and then some. So I don’t mean it’s easy in that it doesn’t take time. Maybe what I should have said is that it’s easy when compared to F2F networking.
F2F networking offers a different dynamic because it can’t be as impulsive. You have to prepare. I can’t just sit down at a table and start networking F2F like I can sit down at computer and jump on Twitter to join the conversation. Well, actually you can, but I think that’s called speed dating .
How much of your networking would you say you do online? For me, it’s at least 80 percent, if not higher. It doesn’t bother me that the online number is so much higher. Just by the nature of the two opportunities, that’s going to be the case. But what I’ve found myself slipping into in the past that I have to make a conscious effort to avoid is transitioning all my networking online because it’s just easier that way. When you’re busy but value networking, it’s simple to do that. I’ll find 30 minutes here to spend on Twitter or 20 minutes to read and comments on blogs. Both are important things to do, but I’d challenge you — and I challenge myself — to look for those same pockets of time offline. Here’s why:
It will make you better at your job
Whether you work at an agency, a corporation, non-profit or are interviewing for a job, at some point you have to sell your offerings and yourself to someone else. And nine times out of 10, you’ll do that selling F2F. Do you feel comfortable in those situations? The little things like dress, posture (I hate that one), looking people in the eye, ability to articulate what you’re thinking all create a perception of your comfort level.
In addition, it’s good to practice answering questions you don’t have an answer to when you can’t open a new Firefox tab and Goggle them. If you’re trying to sell a new client on your agency or a business on you as a new hire, I guarantee you’ll find your self in this situation sooner or later. There’s also an art to reading someone, adjusting the way you’re talking to them based on their reactions and facial expressions, and being able to answer questions on the fly. Great communicators can do that — listen, react, adjust. But we all still need to practice to become good at it.
Boomers still prefer F2F
I’m guessing you work with boomers in some capacity. I know I do. You may have one for a boss. Or your boss’ boss. Or both. Most of them won’t retire until they’re close to 70, so they’re not going anywhere. They make up the majority of the execs and organizational leadership in this country and they prefer F2F over online networking — at least most of them do. As PR and marketing pros, we put a high importance on targeting our audiences, right? Well this is no different.
The people with the most professional experience and the most power in the organizations where we work would rather meet in person than online. If you don’t think that has a chance to impact your career, think again. Learn to be flexible. If you are lucky enough to get access to the CEO or CMO, chances are you’ll be sitting across the table from him or her while doing so. It won’t be during a Twitter chat or even a Skype conversation.
You learn more about a person in-person
It takes a while to get to know somebody well online. In fact, the people I’ve met online and know the best are people I’ve talked to on the phone or met in person as well. There’s just a different feeling when you walk away from a one-hour networking sit-down with someone than when you walk away from an online conversation. It’s easier to build trust faster and learn more about a person when you meet with them IRL. Plus, online still has that caveat for some where they can’t totally be themselves or talk about all the aspects of their lives they would F2F.
For instance, I had a networking lunch yesterday with a friend from IABC. He told me about a vacation he and his wife are going on soon and that led us to talking about his passion for hiking and outdoors activity. Now we might have gotten to that same point online, but he might have been hesitant to talk about vacation because many people don’t like to post anything on Facebook or Twitter that mentions when they won’t be home.
So what’s the best way to go about setting up F2F networking opportunities? First, I’d set an objective — something like two offline networking sessions a month. Then, start thinking about how you’re going to make them happen:
- Ask someone you work with to coffee, lunch, or drinks. Even if you see a person at work everyday, there’s still value in a one-on-one conversation to get their perspectives.
- Attend a professional development event — IABC, PRSA, Social Media Club (SMC), etc. You’ll likely meet several people at these events. Pick one or two you want to know better and find a time to get together that works for both of you.
- Ask someone you met online to meet offline. If they live in your city, find a time to meet before or after work so hopefully a work commitment won’t interfere. If they live in another city, ask what upcoming conferences, biz trips they have scheduled to see if you have a match. Or just extend the “if you’re ever in my neck of the woods” offer.
- What are some other F2F networking opportunities you would suggest?
- Do you find that the leadership at your job prefer to meet F2F?
- What do you learn about people in F2F meetings that you don’t get online?
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