Networking: Why Face to Face matters

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.

Has social media cost us our manners?

Today, recovering from a bitter cold and enjoying a tea at Darwin’s, I happened across this interesting article by Jennifer Leggio on ZDNet that discusses FourSquare, a new social networking site. I’ve yet to try it, being more than busy enough with Twitter and Facebook, but if you’re on Twitter at all, you’ve probably noticed that a couple of your friends are posting things like “@name just became the mayor of somesuch location.” That’s foursquare in a nutshell. You go to a place, “check in” on foursquare, and if you go there often enough, you become mayor. There’s also apparently points and badges and things, which ups the potential for addiction.

I certainly see how this service could be useful for business, especially retail and restaurant businesses that might be able to track who’s hanging out at their establishments and maybe run special promotions for users, but the article raises some excellent points about the potential pitfalls; aside from the obvious potential issues raised by, essentially, telling someone where you are every moment of the day (do your colleagues really need to know that you’re having tea and blogging at your favorite coffeeshop instead of working diligently on their urgent jobs? Er, right.) there’s the fundamental issue of rudeness – and I’m realizing that this is becoming an issue not just with foursquare, but with all social media.

Let’s think about this for a second. How much time have you spent “just checking in” on Facebook or twitter instead of spending time with your loved ones? How many times have you been in the middle of a conversation with someone when suddenly you felt compelled to tweet something they said, or your iDroidBerry alerted you to an “urgent” e-mail (which, too often, is some bit of nonsense from a newsletter you’re on rather than something that actually needed paying attention to?). Ironically, the more we surround ourselves with technology to make our lives easier, the harder it becomes to actually live our lives in the moment. We’re constantly chasing after the next bit of information, the next “opportunity” we can’t afford to miss.

Social media presents some great opportunities, to be sure. Over the years, I’ve made friends and clients through my various networks who I would never have met otherwise, and who have proven to be an incredible support network as I’ve grown my studio. But at a certain point, it’s time to put down the laptop and the smartphone, and remember that there’s also a world outside the office.

Getting back to loving what is

Over the last several months, there have been a number of important shifts happening in my business. Some are perfectly normal and comfortable and leave me wondering why I haven’t always done things this way; others, quite frankly, scare the bejeebus out of me. Through all of it, I’ve found myself caught up in wishing – feeling like I need to overhaul my office, my internal processes, even the way I market the studio. This morning, what I realized I hadn’t been doing at all was taking time to actually appreciate what I’ve spent the last five years building. And I wondered: hokey as the thought may seem, what would it look like if I spent less time constantly wishing things were different, and spent some time simply loving what is?

As independent professionals, we spend a lot of time learning. We read books, articles, blogs, all by people calling themselves experts, all proposing some new way that we need to do things in order to succeed. But how often do we really listen to ourselves? How often do we sit back, really look at where we are, and trust that we know what to do? And frankly, when everyone who owns an independent service business (and trust me, I count among that number) is writing all these articles trying to prove that they’re an “expert” in something, how do we figure out who to listen to and who to ignore?

I’m beginning to think the answer lies in shutting down the noise – at least for a little while – and going back into ourselves. I think we need to start with what we do know, and then worry about what to add to that knowledge. I think that we need to trust that we’re enough.

Getting unstuck

I’ll admit it: I’m feeling a bit stuck lately. Part of the next stage of business development at my studio involves making room for and landing higher-paying jobs, and instead of moving forward, plan in hand, I’ve spent the last couple of days staring at my computer, hitting “Get Mail” over and over again. That, and feeling incredibly guilty, like I’m somehow sabotaging my business with non-productivity.

What causes this? Is it a fear of failure? Is it fear of success? Is it the fact that spring has been threatening to invade New England for a couple of weeks now, but the temperature doesn’t seem to have caught on to this yet?
A little bit of each, I think. But what to do about it?
Looking back at the times I’ve felt this way, I realize that it’s usually a relatively short, passing thing that always precedes something major – and it usually marks the fact that there’s something I’m missing in the path I’m taking. The worst part of this, as an entrepreneur, is feeling like you’re being unproductive, like you should be out *doing* something. But part of owning your own business is making room for creativity and brainstorming, and sometimes that means having a couple of days off while you sort through something that’s sticking you.
And thinking about it some more, I realize that becoming unstuck generally requires two things:
  • telling someone you’re feeling stuck (which I’m doing)
  • going somewhere quiet, away from technology and all the things you “need” to do, and contemplating what it is you really want from whatever’s sticking you.

Step two is where I’m at right now; thus, I sign off. But here’s a question: what do you do when you find yourself not moving forward?

Blog, Tweet, or Facebook?

The other day, while having a conversation with some friends and fellow designers, I was asked how I decide whether a particular piece of information is better for a tweet (aka twitter post), my blog, or my Facebook profile. Since I know many folks here might also be confused about that, I wanted to share my personal philosophy.

I use twitter mostly for:
  • quick thoughts, often unrelated to work directly.
  • quick questions that I need an immediate answer to; since I have so many fellow designers and entrepreneurs following me, it’s an easy way to get quick feedback on something I’m stumped on.
  • quick shout-outs of Happy Work Stuff™, such as launching a new project or landing a speaking engagement, contract, etc.
  • quick links to interesting articles I think people should read, but I don’t have any specific commentary to add to.

I find that this balance of personal and professional, self-promotion but also promoting others, works really well for twitter. It does a good job of promoting my work without feeling spammish. Plus, it’s really easy to keep tabs on; I generally only spend about 15-20 minutes a day at most on twitter.

For blog posts, the formula is this:
  • new projects, with imagery and a quick story about the project;
  • news items, press clips, etc.
  • links to blog posts or articles that I think people should read, and I actually have original commentary to share. This is the difference between blogging an article and tweeting it; blogging an article is meant to add something thoughtful to the conversation, not to just say “hey, read this!”
  • occasionally, I’ll post stuff about working in the office, design, etc.

As for Facebook, I simply import my blog via the Notes feature, and I have the Twitter application importing my tweets as status messages, so it’s generally self-maintaining. That said, sometimes if I see something cute and not work-related, such as a funny picture from I Can Has Cheezburger, I’ll share it on Facebook, since I have a much more casual relationship with most of the people on there. I do, however, have a Fan Page for my business, which I upload new work to. It’s a way to have a quick overview of my studio’s work available for people who might not otherwise discover my business.

How do you decide what goes in your various social media feeds?