Tweeting and Facebooking are no longer those “weird things that teenagers do”. In fact, over the last few years, these notions have established themselves at the center of business networking. My name is Jeremy Powers and I’m here to compare the benefits of combining online and offline networking.
Online Networking, The Advantages
While it’s unlikely that Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms are going to completely replace face-to-face networking in the near future, you should at least incorporate social media networking strategies into your company’s general networking strategy. If your company doesn’t have a networking strategy, I strongly suggest that you draw one up as soon as you can. I can understand if you’re extremely busy with creating a new product, but if you don’t engage in networking, who’s going to know about your amazing new product and how would you market it without knowing your target audience?
Following potential clients and suppliers on Twitter and adding them on LinkedIn after meeting them in person or finding them online during your market research could be a good start to building your online network of contacts. Make sure that your profile is clean-looking, professional and clearly reflects who you are and what your company does. Remember – online marketing and networking can be made or broken within six seconds of a potential contact looking at your profile. Therefore, you should make sure that it’s eye-catching and can engage your target audience long enough for them to follow you back or add you.
The advantage of online networking is that it can take up a lot less time than attending a networking event – following someone on Twitter only takes a second. This is great for busy people like me who just can’t seem to find the time to attend an industry conference or a seminar that’s not a webinar. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take online networking as seriously as offline networking. A lot of market research today involves looking at people’s or organisations’ social media profiles, and you can gather a lot of useful information if you incorporate your online networking strategy properly. And this works both ways – if you have an online presence, you’re already opened to a larger pool of potential contacts than some of your competitors.
The benefits of online networking should, however, be reaped along with the advantages brought by offline networking. The strongest business relationships are usually forged in person, including, but not limited to, finding a mentor or an investor. A video conference is a wonderful way to engage in order to solve an issue quickly, but unless you have a very strong online presence and managed to incorporate an online referral scheme into your networking strategy, you’re unlikely to get referrals from the contacts with whom you only ever see on a computer (phone or tablet) screen.
Offline Networking, How?
Attending networking events can also be a good way to expand your professional network and meet people who would subsequently become a part of your online network. That’s not to say, however, that you can’t add people on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter, Google+ or other social media platforms before you meet them in person – at the very least, an “I follow you on Twitter and I loved what you shared the other day, can you tell me more about it?” could be an excellent conversation starter. This is why it’s always a good idea to get a list of attendees before you go to the event if possible, so you can decide on potential candidates for your professional network in advance.
So what is the best networking strategy? Should you focus more on online or offline networking? The answer to this depends entirely on you and the kind of company that you run. Some industries, such as Technology, Media and Telecommunications (“TMT”) place a larger emphasis on online networking, but also host quite a few workshops and exhibitions, as well as other events. In other industries, like finance industry, it’s still preferable to meet fellow professionals face-to-face, although we’re beginning to see a shift towards higher levels of “techiness” within the industry. My advice would be – the best strategy incorporates both online and offline networking. If it turns out that one is more prominent in your industry than the other, by all means put in more effort into it, but don’t neglect the other one. If you feel like you could benefit equally from online and offline networking, I applaud you – you’ve managed to strike the perfect balance.