Today’s trend of overscheduling is taking its toll on all of us. And while COVID has changed the way we connect to family and friends, it has also changed the way we do business. With the increased demand for pivoting, finding customer streams, and staying afloat, who has the hours or motivation for networking? Very few of us.
Yet if you want to grow your business and improve referrals, you have to find a way to meet people. Or do you? Is it possible to network online and get the same benefits from it?
The Benefits and Limitations of Online Networking
There are two major benefits to online networking:
• You’re not hindered by geography – you can network with anyone from anywhere
• You can do it on your time, no event schedule to workaround
These are both pretty great benefits, but there is a downside. Online networking is like a long-distance relationship. It can work but it takes some effort because you don’t have the same kind of in-person connection that can put you at ease. Plus online networking is often as awkward as a blind date. Look at LinkedIn. You connect with people you already know professionally. Many LinkedIn users are hesitant to accept invitations to connect with people they don’t know. They’re worried they’ll be pitched or the connector is just using them to get to someone else in their network. Only about a quarter of LinkedIn’s users are active on the site each month. It’s hard to connect with people who aren’t there.
LinkedIn does offer groups but often these groups are filled with people simply pushing their own content and there’s very little getting to know one another. Even people who ask for opinions are usually only doing so in order for you to read their content or click on their site.
Facebook has similar limitations. You can’t just “friend” someone you don’t know. There’s no search on Facebook for people who are interested in connecting for business purposes. Twitter is a little better because people are having conversations and you can follow anyone you’d like without them agreeing to it.
The problems with LinkedIn and Facebook is that what you see is a stream made up of your friends or connections and contrary to what Zuckerberg may think, from a professional standpoint, you may not really be interested in what your friends are saying, particularly if they work in different industries than you.
The Benefits and Limitations of In-Person Networking
There’s no comparison and better way to instill trust quickly than through a firm handshake and a sparkling smile. Conversation is easier in person and there are fewer distractions. A business card exchange also gives physical proof of the conversation and can be easily used for follow-up.
But in-person networking can be intimidating for introverts and quite draining. Often in-person events can be comprised of the same crowd of pushy salespeople. This turns a lot of people off. Plus it’s difficult to make the time. Networking events are either first thing in the morning or after work. This isn’t optimum for a lot of business owners.
So What’s the Answer?
Ultimately whether online or in-person is better comes down to you and your objectives. And whether now is the time that you want your business to grow. If time is a premium and you work strange hours, online networking might be a good fit. And ultimately something is better than nothing. Just remember, it does take some effort. Online requires you to be on and interested in exchange. You also need to choose your platform well. Twitter or a Facebook group may be the easiest way to connect with like-minded people and industry or professional events are ideal.
You can use social media for striking up quick conversations and identifying links. It’s also perfect for doing research on who you’ll be meeting or are interested in meeting. But it doesn’t have to replace in-person networking. With in-person meetups somewhat limited at least for now connecting with others and forging meaningful relationships will likely look a little different for a while.
In business, you really do need both, so there’s no reason to think that you can’t connect online now effectively. Both have their benefits and both will help you grow your business and your personal brand.