Over the last few years I’ve met people that swear by social media saying that they never have to go to another in-person networking event. I’ve also met my share of people who feel that social media is merely a distraction with no real value. How do I feel? Well, given that I offer courses in both traditional networking and social media I’m sure you can tell that I believe there’s value in both. And like most things in life, where you get the most benefit will depend on your situation. I will say that completely discounting either method of making new connections is a mistake. I have had successes using both methods and I know many others that have as well.
So let’s look at how both of these methods line up against each other:
Social media tends to be free (other than a computer and internet connection). While some services will charge a nominal fee for some extra features, it’s usually not necessary to accomplish your objectives.
Traditional networking events can be free or there may be an entry fee. Additionally, there’s the cost of getting to the event – even if it’s local you may pay for gas, tolls, parking etc.. Some events may include a meal, refreshments or items that can be taken home which can offset the nominal price of attendance.
But the big additional cost here is your time traveling to and from the event. Where social media networking isn’t limited to a particular timeframe, you can do it in your free time rather than taking up time that you could be doing work or meeting with a client.
Winner: Social Media
Social media lends itself very well to businesses (and people) who are trying to connect with others on a global (or at least national) scale. It’s easy to find people who may be interested in your type of products or services and it’s easy to pitch to thousands of people in a short period of time.
But it’s important to understand that for most people, it’s easier to make a real connection with someone that you meet in person. While it’s possible to seem knowledgeable and professional through social media, it’s a lot easier to earn someone’s trust in person. And not to mention, many people are still leery about transacting business and meeting people online.
The method that works best for you depends on your type of business. A dentist or chiropractor would do better in an in-person event as they can look at someone’s teeth or evaluate their posture on the spot. While they could answer questions online, it’s unlikely that the person they help will fly half-way across the world to use their services (but it is possible that they might refer local friends or relatives).
Someone that sells products and services online would be better off with social media than in-person networking because people who use social media are already online. If you meet someone at local networking event, you need to give them your URL and then they have to type it in the next time they’re on their PC (assuming they don’t lose it) and at that point, they may ask if they can pick it up so they can save a few bucks on shipping.
In my case, I network in person to connect with people to attend my public courses or to hire me for coaching or to give a presentation. But I also use social media to drive people to my web site where they can join my mailing list, purchase products or look at advertiser supported content.
Winner: It depends on your goals.
Quality of leads:
I’m partial to in-person events for a higher quality of leads. While a lot of folks I’ve worked with have gained good leads from social media, I find the medium to be tricky for novices — there’s so many predators out there. Spammers, hackers and other undesirables posing as someone they’re not are out there for the sole purpose of capturing you information or scamming you out of money. This sort of thing rarely happens at in-person networking events (although dishonest people attend them as well).
Winner: Traditional Networking
Social media is inexpensive, less time consuming and allows you to quickly connect with a larger audience on a global scale. With technology evolving and new services coming online every month, this medium is definitely promising for people under time or financial constraints when on a budget.
Social media’s downside is mainly in the quality of leads — you really don’t know who you’re talking to and it’s easy for dishonest people to take advantage of social media neophytes. If your goal is to connect with people on a local scale, it may be difficult to find locals on the services you use and it’s easy to get distracted helping people who live too far away to do business with you.
Traditional networking allows you to meet people face to face which is optimal if you can demonstrate your services on the spot (such as a chiropractor). Most people who attend networking events are more serious about conducting business than the majority of folks who use social media – keep in mind that many people who use social media are there for social reasons.
Traditional networking requires more time and effort than social media and has more associated costs. You also need to communicate well to and not be afraid to talk to people to do well at an in-person event.
So it’s up to you to decide which is best for your situation. I encourage you to explore both options — and by explore, I mean try it out a few times. Try to attend a few different types of in-person networking events and try out a few social media sites. At the very least, you’ll learn whether or not it works for you.