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Before the internet we wrote letters, made phone calls and met people face-to-face.
Things move on, and at a rapid pace.
Don’t get me wrong, I love online social networking. I can spend hours ensuring sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn are working hard for my business (and on behalf of my clients business). I also spend hours reading and talking about it. Social media takes time, but it saves time too. It’s flexible, accessible 24/7 and crosses geographical boundaries.
Yet it’s all too easy to get the balance wrong. Online can take over and become a comfort blanket to the real world. Conversations become functional correspondence, and personalities can get lost.
So, what is the answer?
Face-to-face is still the most important method of communication. There are no 140 character limits, and no hiding behind a screen. Body language and tone of voice are in play.
Nothing beats a good chat over a cup of coffee. This is where the most important conversations take place – where you discover your clients’ biggest concerns, and see how you can help.
Online interactions should never replace offline interactions – one should support the other.
My first realisation that there was an audience behind the content I was posting online came at an industry exhibition. An existing contact introduced me to a colleague who said, “I’ve seen you on LinkedIn. You’re very active in groups.”
Eek. And yay – this stuff works. Up to that point I hadn’t given much thought about life beyond my screen. I’d got caught up in the technology and had forgotten the audience.
I now use social media tools to find new people to meet. Potential suppliers, potential clients, potential speakers for an event. I use search criteria to research people and, if relevant, make initial contact. I then ask if we can meet for coffee, because face-to-face meetings are when the real connections are made.
It might be that I’ve found we have something in common – we’re both attending the same industry event, for example – the perfect place to meet up.
If I meet new people at an event, the first thing I do when I return to my desk is continue the conversation. I’ll follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn. Most importantly I’ll personalise my connection request with information about how we met – or refer to something we discussed. I can then nurture the relationship through social media until the next time we speak or meet.
So, don’t let social media replace the personal touch – use it to enhance your business relationships and you’ll soon see the results.