Why Face-To-Face Networking is Still Important
Why, in an age of social media, is face-to-face networking still important?
It’s not a good business strategy to forego face-to-face networking, event if you’re doing a good job digitally connecting with people and here’s why.
Networking: A True Story
While I was in Stockholm giving a presentation on networking, a Swedish newspaper reporter arranged to do an interview with me. I agreed, and when he arrived for the interview he really started putting me on the spot about online networking, telling me it was replacing face-to-face contact. He was pretty militant about his point of view, and was essentially telling me that traditional networking was going the way of the buggy whip. Well, I was a little annoyed and surprised that this reporter was being kind of confrontational about networking. So I finally asked him: “Why are you here to do this interview?”
He seemed confused and asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “Why did you drive all the way out here to this big stadium to meet with me in person just for this interview?”
He looked at me and said, “Interviews are better face to face.” And I said, “Exactly! I rest my case.”
“Networking is much the same,” I told him. “It beats communicating online, or over the phone, because nothing can ever fully replace an in-person conversation.” The reporter relented. “Yeah, I get it,” he said. “That makes sense. Some things are much better in person.”
That’s right, some things are better in person and networking is one of them. This doesn’t mean that online networking isn’t valuable–far from it. Online networking is a powerful tool in our arsenal of networking strategies. However, it shouldn’t be the only tool we use because sometimes it’s simply not the best one. For me, the bottom line regarding face-to-face networking vs. online networking is that I don’t think it should be an “either-or” scenario; I think it should be a “both-and” scenario if you want to build a strong personal network.
Until the time comes when we can have a face-to-face meeting with a holographic image like the Jedi Knights of Star Wars, it’s probably still a good idea to network in person whenever possible. By the way, when the world advances to a point where we can do the “Star Wars Networking” thing, I want to be Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m just saying.
In-person networking is so important in business. Based on a survey of over 12,000 people published in my book on networking and gender back in 2012 – 91.4% of all respondents said that networking has played a role in their success. If that’s not a critical reason, I don’t know what is.
Ironically, face-to-face communication has become even more significant in an age where social media connections are so commonplace. In my organization, BNI.com, our largest growth over the last 33 years was after the creation of the internet. Many decades ago Alvin Toffler in the book, Future Shock, said that we are moving towards a “high-tech, high-touch” society. The more technologically advanced we become the more important it is to connect with people. I believe we have arrived at that time and the massive growth of BNI shows that.
Now, I need to say that I love social media. I am really active on social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I have found that social media is fantastic [for] brand building. I also believe that social media will not replace all marketing efforts for most entrepreneurs and salespersons. In fact, here is the controversial part. In fact, for many businesses, it just does not generate the majority of their business.
I know that there are people out there right now who are officially apoplectic, my social media coordinator in particular. Brian, I love you man. This isn’t about what you do. I want everyone to take a deep breath. Know that I love you, involved in social media- and that I love social media. It is a fantastic tool. It’s a fantastic tool for me to retain my audience and keep everyone engaged. It is a fantastic brand builder. I have also seen the marketing data. Social media, I believe, is great for brand building but it doesn’t necessarily generate referrals unless you are in the Internet business of some kind. So unless you are in the Internet business of some kind, then it doesn’t replace social media. If you don’t believe me, let’s look at the data.
Here is a great example of a couple of reports. One sent me back from 2011 and one from a couple years after that. In 2011, the Freelance Industry Report did a really thorough survey of the industry. One of the many questions they asked was, “What has been your most effective method of finding and landing clients?” Four out of the five answers were all networking related. Word of mouth, referrals, personal professional network, local networking activities – these added up to 69.5% of all business development from the respondent. Almost 70% of all the business they got came from networking or word of mouth referrals. Social media ranked number eight on the list with only 2.8%.
But wait, that’s not the most important and most amazing thing about it. In this report, when they asked, “Which marketing methods are you planning on spending more time and resources on in the next 12 months?” Social media ranked number one with 46.1%.So they got their business, 70% of it, through networking. Only under 3% through social media. The majority wanted to focus on social media during the following year.
Wait. Still not the most amazing thing about this story. You see, the next year’s report came out and networking-related activities for how respondents actually generated their business that year now moved up to 74.3%. So it went up the next year.
Where is the social media, you ask? Well, with all their commitment to focus more time and resources on social media, the report found that the respondents moved the needle to 2.8%. Wait. It was 2.8% the previous year. So it hadn’t changed.
Here is the most amazing part of the story: Despite their commitment to pour more time and resources into social media to generate new business the following year, the respondents actually didn’t move the needle at all. Zero, zip, nada. The really, really, really crazy thing is that year, 42.8% of the respondents said that next year they were going to focus more on, you got it, social media.
So there is a saying for this. What is the definition of insanity? Doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. In two separate very thorough reports, professionals were generating 70% or more of their business from networking-related activities. They generated less than 3% from social media.
91.4% of all business people (survey of 12,000 people) said it played a role in their success. Those same people estimated that they got (on average) almost 50% of their business through this one method. Face to face networking is absolutely worth it, especially if you’re doing to correctly.
This guest post was authored by Dr. Ivan Misner
An International Networking Expert, Dr. Ivan Misner PhD, is the Founder of BNI.com, the world’s largest business networking organization. Started in 1985, BNI now operates in over 70 countries and last year alone facilitated over 10 billion dollars’ worth of referrals for its members. Ivan is the author of several New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestselling books, and his latest “Networking Like A Pro” from Entrepreneur Press is available now.