Braindump: On face-to-face and online social networking (xpost)

Posted: - Modified: | braindump, connecting

An author wants to set up an interview with me because she’s working on a paper on what can be done through face-to-face networking that can’t be done online.

Here’s what I think:

Most people strongly feel that face-to-face networking is much better than online social networking. A paper that focuses on what can be done through face-to-face networking that can’t be done with on-line social networking will find it hard to say anything that hasn’t been discussed before. If you want to get attention and create value, you can teach people how to effectively blend on-line social networking with their offline social networking.

How can people use online social networking tools to make it easy to identify people they want to get to know, make the initial contact, find common ground, keep in touch, maintain their network, and make introductions?

People have heard a lot about how online social networks are limited and often a waste of time. What they need is guidance on how to use these tools effectively, and how to make it worth the investment of time. As more companies explore telecommuting as a way to cut expenses and reach more globally-distributed talent, people need to learn how to connect and stay connected at work and in life.

Hmm. Let me explore that, because I get a whole lot more done with online social networking than with offline ones, and I find virtual networking to give me better results – and surprisingly good serendipity – than offline networking events.

Why I like online networking investments (blogs, presentations, etc.) more than offline networking investments (networking events, lunch, coffee):

  • Works for you even when you’re sleeping
  • Can start with other people getting value from you right away (people finding answers on your blog through search engines, etc.) – jumpstarts reciprocity
  • Reaches a much wider network with little additional effort
  • Allows people to efficiently get a sense of your depth and breadth (often more than you can pack into a five-minute conversation)
  • Makes it easy to stay connected (asymmetric connections possible; not dependent on both people’s time and inclination)
  • Supports greater value capture (it’s easier to copy and share an answer sent through e-mail than to remember what you discussed, type that up, and then share it)

Where offline networking is still useful: hearing from people who don’t share online

What I would recommend to people who are starting out:

  • Ditch the mindset that online social networking is much less effective than offline. Don’t be limited by your preconceptions.
  • Share what you know. Give as much knowledge away as you can. Create as much value as you can.
  • Be real. Don’t let the fear of imperfections stop you from sharing.
  • Build bridges. Make it easy for people who meet you offline to discover your online self. Make it easy for people who come across one of your posts to discover the others.
  • Experiment. Stick with things for a while before you give up, because it takes time to form a habit. Focus on immediate personal benefits so that you don’t get discouraged if you’re not immediately popular. Figure out what works for you.
  • Learn from others. Find someone you admire and learn from them. Ask questions. Share what you learn from them.
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