Online vs offline networking

Based on our expanded services over the last few years and the plethora of social media posts on this blog, we’re obviously huge fans of online networking. But when I attended the MarketingProfs B2B Forum TweetUp Monday evening, I was reminded how important face time is with those we connect with online.

I had the pleasure of seeing older friends/industry colleagues like Chris Brogan, Jim Storer, Jim Spencer, Patrick Rafter and Ann Handley, and I was fortunate enough to meet those who were – until now – online acquaintances such as Steve Woodruff, Diane Hessan, Mike Volpe and many others. I also received a lot of flack from Joselin Mane about the fact that I don’t go to enough TweetUps. And you know what, despite my push back about lack of time for family commitments, work and personal friends – let alone TweetUps – he has a point. There’s nothing quite like face-to-face networking. It provides the opportunity to create stronger bonds with others and discover chemistry that might not come through as quickly in online conversations. (It also keeps you “real” – here’s a funny post about how online and offline behaviors differ.)

Although I recognize the value in such events and enjoy most of them, I really don’t get to as many as I probably should. But you know what, I don’t see many other PR agency leaders at them either. So I started to wonder, is it a generational gap? Is online networking enough? Are those that don’t do both missing huge opportunities?

After a few of us listened to Brogan run through his event schedule – and wondered just how he does it – we talked about how not everyone is created equal. What I mean by that is that not everyone has the same personal or work situation – and so reasons for attending or not attending vary greatly.

@jeffglasson @chrisbrogan @fairminder

Younger workers seem much more likely to attend events on a regular basis – they often live in closer proximity to the city (here in Boston, anyway) and they usually have interest in meeting people for personal reasons as well (friendship or dating, for example). Older workers may live in the suburbs with a healthy commute both ways, and thus attend less often – and become more choosy about what they attend and why they attend. With many who have spouses or families waiting at home, the options for attending the overflow of events may be even slimmer.

Don’t forget that a lot of people who are active in online communities – such as Twitter and Facebook – physically live in rural areas and barely get to any face-to-face events at all. Are they at a disadvantage?

What’s your opinion?

  • Is there a generational gap in networking?
  • Is it a sign of career dedication (or lack thereof)?
  • Do you gain business value from every event?
  • Does it hurt to attend less events or is online networking just as valuable?

27 thoughts on “Online vs offline networking

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  4. Great topic, Christine. Over the past year I’ve assembled a nice group of online friends/industry colleagues who live in or around the Boston area, but I’ve only attended 2 TweetUps. There are many more events I’d love to attend, but my location (just west of 495) and family commitments (2 young kids and my wife works nights during the week) combine to make things difficult.

    Am I missing out on valuable networking as a result of my situation? Probably. But I’m a big believer in the philosophy you mentioned above… everyone’s work/personal situation is different. I’ve had to accept that what was possible for me pre-kids just isn’t possible now. I’m fortunate to work with business partners who understand and respect my situation.

    But you know, there is a simple solution to this problem: we need to mix in some family-friendly networking events! Chuck E. Cheese TweetUp, anyone?? ;-)

  5. As much as I’m a huge believer in online networking and have had good results, in-person really makes things great. I try to extend in-person contacts with online connections as well. The key is people. Some of my best online conversations are with people that I’ve never met in person and people that I have know since I was a kid.

    So I don’t see a disadvantage to not having close access to in-person events if you take the same connection approach online as you would at an in-person event. Just be who you are where ever you are – online, in-person or on the phone.

  6. Yes. If you want to create a disconnect between yourself and innovation…stop showing up at a large percentage of events. Can you skip a bunch? Absolutely…but if you are looking for new ways and approaches to things you have to regularly be inside the room where cool stuff happens. Just the way it is.

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  10. Chris,
    Good question. For me, it is distance (45 minutes south of Boston, 20 minutes NW of Providence), commute (I work from home but have to wait for my husband to get back from Waltham at 7:30pm making it too late to make most events), and family. Besides, I find I can connect with more people in a short time online then in person, but maybe I’m just a wallflower. :)

    I try to attend one event a quarter, spread out between industry associations like MobileMondays, and local events like Providence Geeks, AMA Boston, or RI Tweetup. I also think a few structured events and conferences a year (like Mobile Marketing Forum or New Marketing Summit for me) help make sure I am “in touch.” I think when you are past your 20s and early 30s the appeal definitely drops off for many of the reasons you have mentioned. Maybe you should post a poll.

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  12. Christine, great topic. I agree with Stuart Foster above when he suggests you get something beyond just a connection by attending live events. Your post also makes me wonder, how do we experience relationships?

    Can it be similar to learning, where some people are visual, others auditory, and still others tactile? Are some people at their best connecting in an online forum, while others like podcasts, and others only get true satisfaction from an in person meet up? Are there broader consequences for connecting through the just right medium?

  13. Great topic! In the South Texas city where I work and live, my home is 45 minutes away from anywhere. We don’t have a ton of Tweet Ups, and those we do have are at night when my husband is in class and I’m with our 4 year old. Same goes for the Social Media Club here.

    My solution for that is taking time to have lunch or breakfast with the people I would interact with at those events I can’t make. It’s not the perfect solution, as I obviously can’t interact with as many people at once; but at least it helps to solidify the online relationships I’m trying to foster.

  14. I think there’s a lot of truth the generation aspect – a lot of the older set (I’m in there) have spent time in the city and now have migrated to the ‘burbs. Getting to events in the city can conflict with family schedules (I often find myself needing to decide between seeing my girls and attending a tweet-up) and/or sitting in awful traffic to get to them (my commute from north of Boston to the Social Media Breakfast for an 8am start typically take 90 minutes b/c of traffic).

    So for me it’s a cost/benefit analysis and often I choose to spend time with my kids and/or not fight the traffic. With that said, EVERY time I make the effort to go to an event I have a great time, meet great folks and walk away telling myself I need to go to more. I guess we need to come up with a way to teleport ourselves. :-)

    Great post Christine! It got me thinking.


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  17. Thanks to all of you for your great comments! This is obviously something that touches a lot of folks – when I wrote this post I thought it was one of my least interesting but apparently not!

    It sounds like more than a generational gap, it’s a commute gap for most. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

    Like Sherry suggested, a lunch or breakfast meeting is nice to do if you can’t make it to after-work events. And I love Tamara’s approach of at least one per quarter – that’s doable and smart. Even Stuart agrees that you can “skip a bunch” but don’t skip them completely.

    Jim – you make a good point about two things: cost/benefit analysis (not always easy to assess though until after-the-fact) and the fact that when you do go, you have a great time. I feel the same way and I do walk away thinking “I really need to do more of this.”

    Jason – your questions are intriguing. I believe yes, absolutely, there are people who excel at online relationships and cannot bring themselves to talk to people in a room. It’s understandable – the online anonymity factor makes it easier, I’m sure. But it makes me hope that we don’t lose our social graces and skill set either as online activities continue to infiltrate our daily lives. Will we all turn into the 90s DotComGuy?

    And while I also love Chad’s idea of a Chuck E. Cheese TweetUp… I have a feeling it wouldn’t be very productive :)

  18. I suppose one could suggest that those who live in “rural” communities could be subject to a geographical disadvantage, but in the same breath one could also point out that without online networking those “rural folk” would have never had the opportunity to meet anyone at all unless they moved to epicenters such as Boston.

  19. Hey Christine –

    Great synopsis. I think part of it also comes down to business goals. I know I go through spurts where we focus on direct business acquisition (therefore major prioritization of outreach efforts, and (unfortunately?) industry events tend to fall lower on that priority list)… So, for instance when you ask if one gets return from each networking event… that’s part of what goes into prioritization. Busy times require at least us to deprioritize more “casual” events.

    However, I do agree with you that there is NOTHING like face-to-face contact, especially with people in your industry. Do I wish I could do more of it when business priorities are such? Yes. So it goes. I would actually love nothing more than to network with many of the wonderful people in our industry on a much more regular basis (I got flack from @mikelangford the other day for going MIA for a few weeks!).

    Additionally, for some odd reason summer always gets booked by about March :-) Maybe sometimes that goes away too!

    Cheers, Perhaps I’ll see you at an event sometime soon!


  20. (Chris, as promised, my comments here- better late than never, right?

    I think it’s absolutely a lifestyle, personality and generational thing.

    If Joselin (sorry to pick on ya Joselin, but you know where to find me!) was married, had 2 kids under the age of 5, and lived in the burbs, he wouldn’t attend every tweetup. If he did,well, he has a VERY understanding wife, and some kids who would miss him a lot…

    And, to Kate’s point above, as an entrepreneur and a business owner, how much is it REALLY worth your time to meet some people in the space? A couple times a month is good, but I’d rather spend my time working with clients and finding new ones (I don’t often find new clients at tweetups)

    Third, I have been VERY unimpressed with some of the social skills of some of the younger people I meet at these tweetups. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but if someone I meet at a tweetup is checking their iphone when I first meet them, or they are talking about their blog or themself, I tune them out pretty quickly.


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  22. Christine,

    Since I helped start the focus of this blog post, I figure I should contribute. :-)

    * Is there a generational gap in networking?
    I see the younger generation at more tweetups than the older generation, which makes sense because as you mentioned not only is distance an issue but also parenting. Most of the tweeple I speak to often have 1 or 2 days during the week where they can be social. One of the reasons why I started @BostonTweetup, with Rachel Levy @BostonMarketer, was to let people know which tweetup would be the one to go to if they could only attend one or two.

    * Is it a sign of career dedication (or lack thereof)?
    It is completely dependent on what the career is and what your career goals are. I don’t think that you can say that just because someone doesn’t go to events that they are not dedicated to their career. I also don’t think you can say that people who attend a lot of events are the most dedicated. Dedication is subjective and while being social and attending events is important to me and something I find very valuable, I have seen people who are very active online accomplish great things without attending any/or many events.

    * Do you gain business value from every event?
    Yes I do, but everyone has different reasons for going and has different expectations. I attend for not only the social aspects and for the business opportunities, but also to study tweetups. With my project @BostonTweetups, I am interested in observing every aspect of tweetups. I take note of everything from the location, to the time, to the subject, and how the people react to all of the different elements. So for me, because I have so many reasons for attending, I do end up gaining business value from every event.

    * Does it hurt to attend less events or is online networking just as valuable?
    I think it eventually does hurt because there is only so much relationship building one can accomplish online. Since we tend do business with people we know, like and trust, online networking can only really increase the knowing part of the equation and possibly the liking.

    In my opinion, tweetups are the second phase in the Social Media business development vetting process. First phase is the online connection, where we can get to know a person, and by know, I mean get a sense of who that person is by the type of information they communicate about. Since everyone’s online footprint provides informational data about one’s work history and current projects its relatively easy to find the people you want to connect and/or partner with.

    I think that tweetups are the ideal social setting for strengthening the relationships that you initially start online. It is a relaxed environment which will allow you the opportunity to see if taking the business relationship a step further is the right move for you. It’s also a great environment to meet new people that you stay connected with when you get back online.

    The key to both of those scenarios is follow-up. For those people you just met, an email or public “great to meet you” tweet is generally the way to go. For those people you already knew online a follow-up email, phone call or lunch is a more appropriate follow up if you want to strengthen the relationship even further.

    It is those tweetup follow ups that are the most essential in the overall equation because that’s where the trust portion of the saying I mentioned earlier starts forming.

    Now in regards to the “geographical disadvantage”, as The Sharper Image Review calls it, and one’s family obligations, the answer is simply balance. The best thing to do is look at what’s going on that week and decide which one makes the most sense for you to attend. I am fortunate to live close to public transportation or can easily drive to almost all of the tweetups/events that are located in or around Boston.

    One of the goals of @BostonTweetUp is to give people that can’t attend every event an opportunity to make an informed decision about which event(s) to go to. And considering that there are at least 9 different online social/event calendars, not many have the time to search thru them all.

    Tyson your right, I wouldn’t attend as many tweetups under all those conditions ;-). However I think the difference wouldn’t be that great, again because my objectives are a bit more unique then the typical person attending tweetups. I like studying the dynamics of tweetups to determine what makes certain one’s successful and others not. This knowledge I have used to help start similar city based Tweetup services in different areas as well as provided consulting to certain tweetups here.

    I hope this was helpful and please pardon my delayed response, I have been busy following up with all the people that I have been meeting at tweetups. ;-p


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  27. Yes. If you want to create a disconnect between yourself and innovation…stop showing up at a large percentage of events. Can you skip a bunch? Absolutely…but if you are looking for new ways and approaches to things you have to regularly be inside the room where cool stuff happens. Just the way it is.

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