A client recently briefed me ahead of a forthcoming event to a group of recent graduates. I was told that many graduate employees over recent years have spurned face-to-face networking events and conferences, seeing such events as a waste of time because they could build the necessary relationships online.
There is no doubt that the proliferation of online networks and their rapid growth to become a central platform in our day-to-day lives has been as much of a benefit as a challenge. From a networking perspective, they have made it possible for us to grow our networks at a more rapid rate, expand our reach globally, access key influencers who might previously have been beyond our reach and, most importantly, manage and maintain relationships with our network in a more powerful and efficient way than we have ever been able to do before.
What they have not done, however, is replace face to face contact. Whilst you can develop relatively strong relationships with complete strangers online, I do not believe that virtual interactions can ever develop as deep a connection as that provided by the personal touch. When we meet with people we have access to a much wider range of expression, gesture, body language and more, all of which provide nuance to our conversations and can act to take a relationship to another level. (Admittedly, in some cases, that new level might be a weaker one than before if you find you have less ‘chemistry’ than you thought!)
The best sales directors I’ve worked with have always encouraged their teams to get out and meet people, recognising that relationships can’t be developed from behind a desk. That hasn’t changed and the benefits aren’t limited to sales.
For younger people, fresh to the workforce, events and conferences provide a unique opportunity to get out and meet lots of people in a short space of time. Those relationships still need to be developed and online networks are one tool in that process, but face to face meetings remain key.
Recent news reports suggest that the latest generation of teenagers are turning their backs on Facebook and other social networks, so perhaps the pendulum will swing back the other way over the next decade or so. What we all need to do, irrespective of our age, is to recognise that we have a fantastic tool in social networks that boosts our traditional relationships and that these networks should complement, not replace, the hard work we put in to build relationships in person.