What’s the best way to network: face-to-face or online?

For those of us who aren’t natural schmoozers and don’t know how to ‘work a room’, it’s tempting to ride the wave of online professional networks and save your social skills for your friends and immediate colleagues. But while LinkedIn, Twitter and the rest can help us get noticed among our peers, there’s still no substitute for good old-fashioned face-time. Let’s take a minute to recap what each one is good for.

Online is brilliant because…

  • You can build bigger networks than ever before…
  • ...of people who are more closely matched to you, according to organisation, job type, area of interest, industry sector, etc. (which is more than can be said for the professional pot-luck of your average brown bag lunch at the local Chamber of Commerce);
  • ...in all sorts of useful collaboration spaces – such as groups, discussions and forums;
  • ...at all times of the day and night;
  • ...quicker than we could ever have imagined 20 years ago; and
  • ...usually with much less effort.
  • It also allows you to craft and present exactly the gaff-free professional persona you want, from the comfort and safety of your own computer.

It sounds too good to be true – no more of the social awkwardness of actually meeting people ever again!  Unfortunately, online misses one vital ingredient: personal interaction. Remote conversations via phone or skype get you halfway – and in our increasingly globalised workplace, this may be the only way to build some working relationship – but there’s just no substitute for developing your professional relationships in the flesh.

Face to face is essential because…

  • Technology simply can’t compete with body language and all the other subtle signals of real life – eye contact, a handshake – that tell others you are trustworthy, competent, friendly and someone they could work with, and tell you whether you want to work with them!
  • Employers and peers will rarely offer you or recommend you for a job if they’ve never met you in person.
  • it makes you practice your social skills. Online networking is great at giving you the happy illusion that you are ‘getting out there’, but if digital is all you do, you’re just building an extensive, but skin-deep base of acquaintances. Every time you make the effort to network face to face, it gets a little bit easier and your contacts run much deeper.  But the only way is to get out there: use it or lose it.

Online and face-to-face networking are both great tools for finding, getting and getting on in a job, and can work brilliantly together.  For best results, use online networking to grow a large network, sow the seeds of collaboration with a select few, and cement them in the real world.

See our Careers Advice section for more work-related tips and information.