Establishing a solid network of friends and professionals has always been critical for success in any industry. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told by parents and teachers alike to network, network, network if I want to get ahead in life.
Today, networks continue to reign supreme. Whether you’re searching for your first job or trying to make a leap from one company to another, calling upon trusted friends and colleagues for support is part of the process. Connections can be made through business dealings, personal friendships or introductions. This will never change.
What has changed, however, is how people network. In the digital age, more and more professionals have turned to online social networking to build their trusted web of contacts.
This leads me to pose the question: is online networking replacing traditional face-to-face interaction?
As a public relations student, I’ve become addicted to Twitter. I also love reading blogs, and write for amazing publications like TalentEgg and wellrounded.me in my spare time. I’ve made some quality connections with people online that I feel are as strong (if not stronger) than some of my face-to-face relationships. We’re friends. We’re contacts. We’re part of the same network.
As I continue to explore social media, I’m becoming more and more conscious of the networks I’m building online. I’ll admit it; I feel a twinge of joy when my posts are re-tweeted by PR pros I admire. It’s flattering to be engaged by your followers on Twitter and it’s always a nice surprise to receive comments on blog posts.
Here lies the burning question: does engaging with these people online and building an online connection have the same pay-offs as face-to-face networking?
On one hand, I would argue that having a recognizable personal brand and interacting with professionals on social media networks is a huge advantage. Although I’ve never met some of my connections on Twitter and LinkedIn, I feel like I know more information about them than some of my real-life acquaintances. By following someone’s blog and seeing their online updates, you often retain more than you would in a 30-second encounter at a networking event.
Yet, I don’t think that the value of face-to-face interaction should be undermined. In my opinion, it’s just as important (if not more) to have potential employers see your face, hear your voice and get a sense of who you really are.
The discouraging news I’m hearing more and more is that most busy executives don’t have the time to remember everyone they meet at networking events. Sure, they’ll take the business cards of many, but the people they will recognize and remember at the end of the day are those that they see re-tweeting their content on Twitter, commenting on their personal blogs and making an overall positive contribution to relevant online discussions.
If you think about it, this makes sense. I operate in the same way. I might forget someone’s name until I see their presence on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Once we connect online, I immediately remember even the most obscure details: such as where they worked for the past four summers or what books they’ve read recently. Visibly seeing this information solidifies a person’s presence in my mind. Rather than just being handed a business card, all the relevant info is at your fingertips.
I’ve also made several connections on LinkedIn and Twitter via mutual friends that I wouldn’t have made in person. For example, LinkedIn has a function called, “People You May Know”. It brings up the profiles of individuals that share some of the same interests and connections as you do. This definitely helps busy people expand their networks. Twitter has a similar feature. On LinkedIn, you can also request an introduction to someone you’re not connected to – the same way that you would at a real-life networking event. From what I’ve heard, it’s a great tool.
In short, I’m torn. Ideally, I’d say you have to make a conscious effort to do both. But sometimes, you just can’t do it all.
What do you think – have you ever had any experiences where face-time has paid off and gotten you the job, or where you’ve been solicited for a position solely via Twitter? Is one method of networking more rewarding than the other? In ten years, what will our personal “networks” consist of – our Twitter followers or our real life contacts?
I’d love to hear your feedback. Thanks!