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?