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The holiday season is upon us and so are the events and new networking opportunities. Now that seemingly the entire world makes active use of social media, there’s no need for you to ever again worry about old-fashioned, face-to-face networking, is there? That’s what many professionals think, but, unfortunately, they’re headed in the wrong direction if they put all their energy into social media at the expense of person-to-person contact.
Social media offers great opportunities, but it will never entirely replace traditional networking. Even in today’s hyper-connected virtual world, there is still a place for handshakes and business cards. In fact, when used together thoughtfully and strategically, the combination of tech-based social networking and old-style physical networking can generate unique benefits that will make your networking efforts more productive than they’ve ever been.
Where Social Media Falls Short
Suppose you craft a long, detailed message to a colleague via social media, laying out a proposed project and hoping to get some valuable, constructive feedback.
Your colleague messages back two words:
What does he mean? Is he pressed for time and unable to respond in more depth? Does he love the idea and intend to follow up more enthusiastically later? Does he hate the idea and resent the fact that you bothered him with it? And, the over-analyzation begins. You could read any of those meanings into his brief reply, and you probably will consider every one of those interpretations in quick succession. You have no way of knowing which of them, if any, is correct.
According to psychological studies, very little of the meaning of our interpersonal communication is conveyed using words. Some studies indicate that as much as 93% of meaning in a given interaction is carried by nonverbal cues, such as gestures, posture, tone of voice and facial expressions.
Most social media interaction, however, relies solely on words, and all those other nonverbal cues are entirely absent. It’s no wonder, then, that it’s so easy to misinterpret meaning in social media posts, texts and emails. The problem is made worse when the creator of the communication doesn’t recognize the problem.
Studies have shown that very often, message senders expect the recipient of the message to pick up on verbal nuances like sarcasm or humor, when in actuality, the recipient misinterprets the message half the time. The same studies have shown that when the message comes along with voice cues on the phone, the recipient is much more able to understand the real meaning of the message.
The Upside of Face-to-Face
Obviously, most of the pitfalls of misinterpretation disappear when you’re in the same room with the person you’re talking to. That’s not to say that you’ll never misconstrue anything someone tells you during a face-to-face meeting, but you’ll have much more information to work with, and misinterpretation is much less likely. Consider your colleague in the example above; if his “Got it” was accompanied by a bright tone of voice, a smile, and a thumbs up, you’d spend much less time worrying that he’d hated your idea.
The accuracy of interpretation isn’t the only benefit of face-to-face communication, though. It can be argued that personal relationships are much easier to build through in-person interaction than they are when the only interaction between you and your colleague happens via text. There’s a reason that, according to Forbes, most executives prefer to conduct their meetings in person. Trust and rapport come much more naturally when you’re able to look each other in the eye.
It’s to your advantage as someone who wants to make a good impression to be able to give a new acquaintance a complete picture of who you are. As verbally eloquent as you may be, chances are that much of the appeal of your personality comes from something other than your words. It’s in the way you carry yourself, the energy in your voice, the enthusiasm that bubbles over into your body language. If your new contact can see all of that, she’ll be more likely to remember you positively later.
There are also sound practical advantages to in-person communication. For one thing, in-person interaction is likely to save you time in the long run. Maybe you had to wait the better part of the day to get the “Got it” message from your colleague, but if you’d been in the same room, you’d have received his feedback instantly. The wait time built into social media interaction vanishes during face-to-face conversations.
Moving from In-Person to Virtual Networking
Networking in today’s world is most effective when it takes advantage of both forms of communication–online and face-to-face. But how do you manage to gracefully make the transition from one realm of communication to the other?
The answer might be as simple as a low-tech tool that’s been around as long as the very concept of networking: the business card. It’s tempting to think that the lowly business card is hopelessly obsolete in the era of LinkedIn profiles, digital portfolios and personal websites, but there’s still a place in today’s world for this simple, physical method of reminding a new contact who you are.
A card with your name, phone number, email address, website URL and relevant social media profiles is all you need to keep yourself in touch. It also allows you to easily pass along your contact information without wasting time or breaking the natural flow of conversation; just hand it over while you’re impressing the contact with your winning personality.
Once you’ve made that initial face-to-face contact, it’s much easier to use social media to leverage your networking. You can make contact online, commenting on your contact’s social media posts, for example, and because you’ve already established a memorable personal connection, it’s that much easier to stay on your contact’s radar from a distance.
Making the Human Connection
How do you go the other direction, when you’ve begun your networking online and want to move into a face-to-face space in order to take advantage of all the benefits of in-person relationships? This is where social media and traditional networking can work wonderfully hand-in-hand.
If you’re planning to attend a networking event, take the opportunity ahead of time to explore the social media presences of the key people you’re likely to meet there. Not only will this help you to determine who it will be most beneficial for you to meet, you’ll also come to the event prepared with questions to ask and information to offer.
With good, tactical preparation, you’ll be able to make the most of the networking opportunity, and you’ll be more likely to establish solid, long-term professional relationships. Then the process comes full circle, and you can once again use online networking techniques to build those relationships even further.
Networking, in the end, is about building relationships, and relationships between people were not invented along with the Internet. The strongest relationships come about when two people meet and engage fully with one another, and that will always happen most readily when those two people are standing face to face.
The Internet and social media allow for methods of communication that can make those relationships even stronger and more beneficial for both parties, but old-fashioned networking methods will never become obsolete in the lives of the most successful professionals.
If we don’t meet in person this holiday season, let’s connect on Twitter.