I’m a huge fan of online networking. I’m active on Facebook, twitter, Foursquare, and LinkedIn, a number of e-mail lists, and a few special networks for creatives such as Ember, Behance and Dribbble. Over the last several years, I’ve seen work requests come from around the country as a result of my activity online. As I start looking more carefully for projects that I’m truly interested in – where there’s a really cool problem to solve, or a really interesting story to tell – I’m realizing more and more that the secret to finding these jobs isn’t in who you know online, but in who you’ve actually met in person.
As an example, let’s talk about LinkedIn. As I start looking at agencies to partner with, my first thought is “who do I know on LinkedIn who might know someone at one of my target agencies?” After some research, I discover that two people in my network are connected to one of my targets – but one of them I only met a few times, and the other I’ve known for years, have collaborated with, etc. Instinctively, I’ll ask the person that I know “in real life” to give me more information about the person, make the introduction, etc. – even if the person I don’t know that well is much better friends with my target.
Why is this? Because face to face, or even on the phone, there’s a connection that you make with someone that goes much deeper than surface level. No matter how transparent you are (and I could be accused of being too transparent at times), someone that you’ve only met online has only seen a surface veneer, whereas the person that you know in your daily life, even tangentially, gets a much broader picture of who you really are.
The way that I tend to think of it is someone that you only see at parties vs. someone that you call in the middle of the day when you’ve had the worst morning ever and need someone to vent to. While it’s a bit of an extreme comparison, it’s apt – because if a business referral is going to be authentic, it has to come from a level of trust and friendliness that’s near impossible to achieve through solely online communication.
Does this mean that online networking is useless? Absolutely not – many of my best online relationships are with people who I’ve met at conferences, and still chat with via IM, Facebook and Twitter. But I will say that it should always be a supplement to, not a replacement for, getting out there and meeting the people you’re interested in talking to.