Monday, January 21, 2008

Social Online Networking vs. Face-to-Face Networking

Chris Brogan had a post on his blog last week called "Social in Real Space vs Social Networking". This theme seems to be popping up a lot lately, and what I love about blogs, bloggers, and the blogosphere is that each of us is allowed and encouraged to continue the discussion on a variety of topics. His post is great, as it talks about how one can leverage their on-line networking activities with their in-person meet and greets.

I want to go beyond what he says and look deeper into what causes the debate between the different types of networking. Are there different types of networking at all?

The number one question I get from audiences when I teach my networking seminars is about social on-line networking. While the number of people who have accounts with LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking / media communities are large, few who have these accounts are actually heavy users. That combined with the fact that the "large" numbers of those who sign up for such services are still "small" numbers compared to the general population leaves a wide chasm of curiosity.

Some people mistakenly think (or hope) that these popular social on-line networking tools replace "networking" in the conventional sense of the word. The truth is there is no competition of online networking and face-to-face networking. They are one in the same in purpose and outcome. The problem lies in the definition of the word networking. Too many people have a preconceived notion that "networking" is in of itself attending a business oriented social event and trading business cards (that is just a part of it). Thus people who are more introverted hate the process, and allow their dislike of this one activity to discolor the whole concept of networking.

There are bloggers, business professionals, authors and professional speakers who regularly state "I Hate Networking", and go condemn the whole process. They rally those who are not comfortable in social situations, or those who do not participate in on-line internet based communities to join them in their anti-networking debates. Yet they miss the mark and create a false sense of different types of networking.

The real definition of networking (according to is:

"a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest"

That says NOTHING about drinking free beer, wearing a nametag, and making small talk with copier salesmen. It speaks nothing of devoting time to create an on-line presence that allows others to identify with you via the digital world. Thus, the whole debate is twisted by a mis-understanding of what is the meaning of "networking".

Who could hate having a supportive system of sharing information and services among those with whom you have a common interest? Does the group need to be in the same room eating from a cheese tray and crudités? Nope. Must someone share a connection on LinkedIn or even know how to Twitter to be part of a network? Nada.

Networking is not something you go "do" when you have free time or the speaker at an event sounds interesting. Instead it is part of a lifestyle that allows you to discover the best in other people and create mutually beneficial friendships that lead to more success for everyone. This can be obtained through any variety of activities, and should not be limited to any one type of social undertaking.

A mixed approach to making real connections with other people is your bullet train to success:

Attend events. Create an on-line presence. Send notes and emails to people. Write industry specific articles. Introduce people to each other. Do amazing work and provide exemplary customer service. Host your own gatherings. Forward useful articles and information. Live your life with consistent character. Read books, blogs, magazines on a wide array of topics. Celebrate diversity. Join organizations. Lead organizations. Become informed about social on-line networking tools. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Have a positive attitude. Help others discover and reach their goals. Share information.

Have A Great Day.



Chris Brogan said...

I agree that real space events are important and good. The purpose of my post was to talk about what maybe should happen in and around the event to be make my real space time more effective. Some of these are great advice to map to my thoughts and wants.

Zita Gustin said...

I agree with Thom in that most folks who say they hate networking really don't know what networking is all about. The old school way was for everyone to be looking for a sale and while they did not want someone selling them, they were there to make the sale. So everyone felt like they were being targeted.

There are still many folks who behave this way at networking events. This behavior has little to do with the food, the beverages, or the speaker at any event. It has more to do with people who have not taken the time to educate themselves on how things work now.

Thom has made a point many times in his posts that the point of networking is to build mutually beneficial relationships. Most folks would be well served to trade the ABC's of selling (Always Be Closing) for the ABC's of networking (Always Be Connecting) With that one small change in thinking, they might find that networking is an enjoyable sport!

Tojosan said...

Great post. I say that a lot it seems, but truly, you hit the nail on the head about what networking is and isn't. Swapping email adddresses can be part of a networking but is certainly not the end of it. Liz Strauss on Successful Blog makes the point that to really network requires getting involved.

Chris Brogan's post really pumps up preparation as a key part of getting involved and direct networking.

For me, heading to SOBCon08, the plan is to bring my camera, my Moo cards, and my smile. To prepare for the conference will involve more than just planning which panels to see, but which folks I'd like to meet.

Heck, even an upcoming vacation to Austin will hopefull prove a chance to get some direct face to face networking done.

But hey, who says there can't be free beer and food? :)

Todd Waymon said...

Good face-to-face networking skills improve one's online networking skills! That's why Thom's advice and ours (see can help you professionally in so many ways.