Networking – Online or Off?

In a few short days, many HR and recruiting pros from the world of Twitter will be heading to an unconference called TruLondon.  I am truly heartbroken that circumstances, mostly financial, prevent me from attending this event.  Based on my experiences with some of the attendees, the sessions will be lively and the exchange of dialog and ideas will be electrifying.

What I will miss most, though, is the opportunity to network face-to-face (IRL is the dreaded acronym) with the people that I have come to know and love in the online community.  People whose opinions I seek and whose values I share.  People who have never hesitated to reach out and extend sympathy, laughter, or a helping hand. People who engage you because they want to – which is what social media is really all about.

Based on this experience I have come to the highly unpopular conclusion that most traditional forms of networking are pointless time-wasters. I am not talking about social or family functions, where you happen to mention to Cousin Bill or Friend Mary that you are looking for work.  I am speaking of those events that are billed as “networking opportunities”, where networking sometimes is the only reason the gathering exists at all.

3 recent examples:

1. Local SHRM chapter seminar.  I spoke with a total of 6 people from a crowd of about 120.  Most people came in groups or with co-workers and were happy to huddle with those people only.  Of the 6 people I spoke with 3 were, like me, in transition and moved on quickly.  One woman approached me because she recognized my avatar from LinkedIn. (So much for in-person!)  Cost was $10.  Time spent? 6 hours. Number of real (people you will continue to engage)connections? Zero.

2.  Michigan Chamber of Commerce seminar. I reached out to 5 people in a small group of about 25. At the beginning of the session, one facilitator asked the participants to discuss how their business was doing financially and whether they were hiring.  I approached one woman from an HR consulting firm who claimed to be hiring.  I gave her a business card and explained what I do.  She reacted to me, and that card, as if I was giving her a communicable disease.  I spoke with both of the facilitators, and sent them a LinkedIn contact request when I got home.  They both ignored that request, and I am certain I will never speak with them again.  Cost was $300. Time spent? 9 hours. Number of real connections made? Zero.

3.  Motor City Connect luncheon. MCC is a community created specifically for networking.  Lunch was at a local restaurant and everyone introduced themselves. Most of the attendees were entrepreneurs trying to drum up business.   Cost was $20. Time spent? 2 hours. Number of real connections made? One. I hired him to help me set up this blog and I keep in touch with him through Twitter and Facebook.

In short, I have found that many people at networking functions are there for their own purposes only.  If you don’t fit into that purpose – you are ignored or politely dismissed. Or people come with security blankets made up of other people – and then are afraid to put those blankets down. ROI (Return On Investment) can be pretty slim, if you measure your investment, as any economist would, in terms of time spent as well as dollars.

Online networking – where the people are generally as anxious as you are to connect and go to great lengths through tweets, status updates, blogs, and comments to achieve that connection – is a vastly superior investment of time and emotion, in my opinion and experience.  Still not convinced?  Let me ask you one question: When was the last time you went to a conference, or seminar, or similar event, and hugged almost everyone there?


11 thoughts on “Networking – Online or Off?”

  1. Joan- A great post abouy Networking… I have had similar experiences. I must say though, Just the putting a name to a face and having the ability to meet people in Person to me is priceless. I am looking forward to meeting you this year. And to give you a HUG! You have been so very kind to connecte with me, and I have enjoyed your friendship.

  2. To answer your last question, HRevolution which is the same answer as yours :)

    It always amazes me when I got a local SHRM Chapter meeting and someone walks up to me and says “Hey, you look familiar, I think I follow you on Twitter”. Before I connected with people on social media, those meetings were almost useless to me. Social media has helped me network better in person, even with people that arent into social media. But I still run into the same people that are only out for their own purposes.

    I hope to see you again in May for HRev2!

  3. I am making it a point in my personal/professional development plan this year (ok, I made that up – I don’t really have a ‘plan’ but it sounds nice) to work on my networking skills this year. Although I’m not a shy person in real life, I have a hard time walking into a gathering and going up to people to say hello and introducing myself. When I do gather up the courage and then am rejected like I was a freak for talking to them (at a networking function? Really?), I get a little bit bitter. I mean, who likes to be rejected?

    I like online networking because it gives us a chance to try to get to know people through their tweets and status updates. You will relate to some people more than others, just like in the real world.

    I’ve already worked up the courage to commit to getting on a plane to travel across the country to go meet people I’ve only met on Twitter at HRevolution, and I’m pretty excited about it. I keep hearing how welcoming everyone is, so I can’t wait. Plan on adding me to your list of hugs.

  4. Hi Joan,

    I’m sorry to hear that your offline networking experiences are not as enriching as your online ones. Could it be a difference of use? Online you’re having conversations on a variety of topics. Your intention is to connect and communicate. The events you described seem to be designed as potential business opportunity events. The focus is much different.

    That’s just my two cents Joan. Good luck with future events!

  5. I absolutely agree that meeting people in person is priceless. Have you ever been to a networking event as wonderful as HRConnect?

    My point, in case I didn’t make it well, is that the beginning contact may well be online and not off. I would rather face to face with the online community than spend so much time and suffer so much failure the other way around.

    I look so forward to actually meeting you, too! I can’t say I feel as excited about seeing any other professional connection that I didn’t make online. :-)

    Big hug to you, too!

  6. I included the examples about the other groups because I don’t think it’s just SHRM. And I echo your statement about SM helping you network in person – I think that the few contacts I made at these groups actually started out because of the SM recognition. Which means I want to keep investing most of my time in SM,because that is where the return is.

    I am excited about seeing you at HRev2 in May as well! 😀

  7. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way, Teresa. I hope you agree with me (you being the financial guru) that from a ROI standpoint we are better off – at least initially – investing in SM. Like I said to Shennee, we can nurture and develop those contacts in person when the opportunity arises.

    I guarantee that NO ONE at HRev2 will treat you like a freak. I will give you a big hug, and so will everyone else. Then you can blog about it. 😀 It is time and money well spent!

  8. Your comment is worth far more than two cents, Victorio!

    I thought long and hard about this post before I wrote it, wondering if it was just me or if I was missing the point somewhere. I talked at length with my daughter about it,too, because she had to do a lot of networking for a previous job, and then was unemployed. We both agreed that the biggest problem is the lack of control, because no matter what type of venue or function – the attendees may have agendas that are far different than yours, but you won’t know that in advance. Online you can vett people so that you only connect with those that have similar agendas right off the bat.

    I specifically included example #3 (and I had LOTS of examples to choose from) because it was definitely NOT supposed to be a business opportunity. That is what the attendees, on that day and time, turned it into. No control.

    It would be interesting if you had suggestions of types of events that you think might be better. I’m all ears!

  9. I think it’s two separate issue with online and offline.
    Offline- People pay to attend these events and it’s time restricted. Thus, it would only makes sense that they will be more selective toward those that will fit their own agendas. For instance: I certaintly would not pay $300 to devote my time talking to someone who is looking for a career change while my goal is to seek a new sponsor.

    Online- It’s free and it’s not face to face. People are more relaxed and most importantly, they don’t have to waste 10-15 minutes talking to you. All it takes is just a simple response that requires no more than 1 minute. The response can be immediate or it could be 3 days later. This is why people online are more receptive and welcoming.

    So overall, it really depends on what it is that you’re seeking for. People who are looking for new business opportunities might find those offline events more beneficial than those who just want to build their network.

  10. I think I said essentially the same thing in my response to Victorio – that it is an issue of control. Attendees at an event will have their own agenda, even if that event is billed in whole or part as a “networking” event. Perhaps especially because they pay. Everyone of the events in my examples was touted as a “networking opportunity.”

    Thanks for commenting, Thuy!

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