Which is better: networking online or in person?

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 our social skills for our friends and immediate colleagues. It’s easy to be seduced by the Internet – it has expanded the reach of networking in ways that were previously unimaginable. But there’s still no substitute for good old-fashioned face-time. Here’s a short summary of what each one is good for, and how both can complement each other.

Online social media for professionals are brilliant for:

  • building bigger networks than ever before…
  • of people who are more closely matched with us, 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!)…
  • within 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 until not so very long ago…
  • and usually with much less effort.
  • Networking sites also allows you to craft and present exactly the gaff-free professional persona you want, from behind the comfort and safety of your own computer screen.

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.

Face-to-face networking 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 and good to get along with (and also tell you whether you want to work with them!)
  • Employers or your peers will rarely offer you or recommend you for a job if they’ve never met you in person.
  • There’s really no other way to maintain your social skills. Online networking is great at giving you the happy illusion that you are ‘getting out there’, but if online chat and emailing is all you ever do, you’re just building an extensive, but skin-deep base of acquaintances. Every time you make the effort to network in person, 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.

Unfortunately, in an increasingly globalised world we may never have the opportunity to meet colleagues on the other side of the world. In this case, online video calls and teleconferencing are the next best thing.

In short, use the Internet to gather information and grow a large network; let it lead you organically to who you want to collaborate most closely with; and then cement these relationships in person.