Networking online is indeed convenient, but is it good enough to replace face-to-face meetings?
Written by Caitlin McLachlan, Staff Writer
The instantaneous connections of online networking may seem a perfect answer to our time-pressed prayers, but a closer look begs to differ. A 2008 Statistics Canada study found that Internet use actually encourages solitude.
Participants who spend more than an hour online daily were alone for nearly two hours more than those who did not.
That may not seem significant, but consider this: In a 2009 report, American think tank Pew Research Center found that the number of adult Internet users with social networking profiles has quadrupled in as little as four years.
Social interactions are moving into online; and time spent online seems encourage solitude. What does this say about the quality of our networks and interpersonal relationships?
Back to basics
“In-person networking has taken a hit, as evidenced with down enrolment in chambers, free-based networking events and professional organizations,” writes career guru Deborah Shane on Careerealism.com. “Are we substituting an e-mail, tweet, post or text for live in person activities thinking that is going to grow relationships?”
In-person networking has taken a hit, as evidenced with down enrolment in chambers, free-based networking events and professional organizations
Online networking strategies need to be combined with those in the real world, writes Shane. “We cannot ever forget how important and powerful (the process of) people getting together for face-to-face interaction is and can be.”
Maybe she’s right. We should go back to the basics – the handshake. After all, what we convey in the few seconds of a solid handshake says much more than a smiley face ever could.
Using the web to enhance in-person networks
There is nothing wrong with online networking, but we should think of them more as an enhanced, modern-day rolodex, and less as a venue for cultivating strong relationships.
“If I meet you online and strike up a relationship that has value and interest to me, then taking it offline is going to enhance and progress that relationship,” writes Shane.
In fact, there are plenty of online opportunities to do just that.
Meetup.com is an online network of local groups. As its name suggests, it is an excellent source for both organized offline networking. With 11.1 million members in 45,000 cities globally, it provides a great way to know people in your field of interest.
In a similar vein, Facebook and LinkedIn both have groups functions, but not all of them are intended for in-person interaction.
One thing to be aware of about online social networking is the so-called “pseudo identity.” According to the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of social network users have two or more online profiles and 83 percent of those users have profiles on different sites.
With multiple profiles, it becomes easy to develop inconsistencies among those profiles. Updating multiple profiles is challenging; it is even easier to have an outdated profile floating on the Internet for employers to find. If you decide to take your networking up a notch, it might be a good idea to limit your profiles to a few networks. Presenting potential employers and business contacts with a cohesive image is an effective part of personal branding that expresses reliability and trustworthiness.
But, of course, online isn’t everything. Cultivating in-person relationships strengthens the quality of character references. It also increases the likelihood that someone in your network will think of you when that dream job becomes available.
Like Shane said, the online and offline of networking need to go together: “If we meet in person, then staying connected online is going to enhance and progress our relationship until we meet in person again.”