Special to CPRS Vancouver: Strategic Networking in 2015

Christie Prof Photo 2014I love networking. I can’t get enough of those rubber chicken luncheons and pass out my business cards like they’re birthday party invitations. I take piles of business cards back to the office and pour over them like elementary school Valentines.

I can’t get the same inspirational, tangible experience from social media networking. There are no cold and flu ridden handshakes or perplexing fist bumps in cyber introductions. There’s no need to dress up or share feigned interest in some news item to break the ice. It’s comfortable, fast and cheap.

Regardless of how you do it, relationship-building matters. It is a key part of any successful business. Whether you are collecting new ‘friends’ through social media or meeting people face-to-face at various functions and meetings, it is the authenticity of those relationships that determines their ROI.

We need to ask ourselves, in this efficient, fast-paced business culture, if our networking efforts are truly valuable and having the impact we desire and expect.

To determine the measurable value of relationships built on social media networks, we can expect to see more in-depth, real-time analysis of social metrics informing our business decisions. A Harvard Business Review survey of 2,100 companies found that 79 per cent use or plan to use social media. However, only 12 per cent of those surveyed believed they are using social media effectively. We’ll likely see this gap between social media hype and reality begin to close as new social technologies take root. Expect refined internal procedures and improved analytical tools to reveal the true ROI on our social media efforts.

While virtual technologies facilitate interaction and help develop virtual teams across widespread and diverse regions, they are not a substitute for lively human-to-human interaction. It has been argued that at meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences, the real value often happens outside the room. Face-to-face communication builds strong relationships, referrals and community that are powerful, informal levers for success in our fast paced business world. Perhaps the most valuable social network really is a table and two chairs.

A 2009 Forbes Insights survey of 760 business executives measured perceptions held about face-to-face and virtual meetings. The study revealed that while many companies are turning to technology in place of face-to-face meetings, an overwhelming majority of executives expressed a preference for face-to-face meetings. More than eight out of ten said they prefer in-person over virtual contact. Frequently cited reasons for this preference included building stronger, more meaningful business relationships (85%), ability to read body language and facial expressions (77%), and more social interaction that fosters an ability to bond with co-workers and clients (75%). 

One could compare the effort it takes to interact in person to handwriting notes. Philip Hensher produced an article on what he’s termed “The Lost Art of the Handwritten Note.” Hensher’s argument for handwriting is “that it forms a direct and intimate bridge between two people” and that unlike electronic communications, letters and postcards become “treasured possessions”. Indeed, the last heartfelt handwritten letter I received meant so much to me I framed it. Handwritten or not, ABC really does mean ‘Always Be Considerate’.

We know that millennials demand speed, ease, efficiency and convenience in their transactions. Our business culture has evolved along the same lines, valuing efficiency and ease of use. Some believe these technological changes are compelling us to withdraw from the physical world, promoting antisocial behavior and undermining authentic relationships.

Barry Wellman, who spoke at the Political Networks Conference in Montreal last June, disagrees. Wellman is a sociologist and the director of NetLab at the University of Toronto, and has studied the role of social networks and technology for decades. He argues that panic about the rise of social media is largely misplaced. His research claims that technology has not undermined our social relationships at all.

Specifically, he states that people with many on-line conversations have just as many off-line conversations as those who decline to participate in the former. The Internet just increases the overall frequency of communication. We have become, in Wellman’s words, “glocalized,” simultaneously involved in both local and long-distance relationships.

Regardless of how you build your relationships, networking is a critical component of communications and public relations activity. Certainly, it is your core audience that is most worth engaging via social media. It’s the people who ‘like’ you through a recommendation from a friend or from your website who truly want to connect with your brand. Focus on them, talk to them and connect them with each other. Keep the conversation going. When appropriate, nurture those connections in person. The time and energy invested results in enduring relationships that serve as cobblestones on the steps to building new ones.

About the Author

Christie Smith, APR is an accredited, award winning communications professional with over 20 years’ experience in the industry. She is currently the Associate Director of Corporate Communications at the City of Vancouver and formed The Elite Communicators Group to enable senior practitioners to connect with one another.

About The Elite Communicators Group

The Elite Communicators Group is based on the defined goals of networking: to be effective, dynamic and action-oriented. The Group offers opportunities for communications and public relations professionals to get together to exchange ideas and information and to refer colleagues for new opportunities. Its focus on sharing common interests and information nurtures values in giving before expectations of receiving. This hub of high level communications expertise generates an incredibly valuable network.