The Limits of Digital Networking

It is commonly said that the traditional approach to networking is fast dying out. Gone are the days of attending seminars, conferences and panels armed with a stack of business cards, aggressively wading through an ocean of potential contacts, trying to get yourself noticed. With the advent of social media, blogging and portable internet devices, businesspeople today can build a dedicated base of valuable contacts with just a swipe on a screen.

But has this really rendered traditional methods obsolete? Digital networking certainly brings with it numerous benefits:

Sheer volume and worldwide connectivity.  By fully utilizing the networking tools and platforms the internet age has brought about; social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, dedicated business networking sites such as LinkedIn and BranchOut, along with a vast selection of individual and corporate blogs, businesspeople can potentially amass a pool of international networks and contacts without needing to leave their desks.

Commonality of interest and real-time information sharing.  The arrival of digital networking has greatly facilitated the ease at which one can identify and join groups with common business interests (such as LinkedIn industry groups). With numerous online forums and business associations to choose from, professionals can obtain real-time exposure to the newest ideas, gain advice from established players and meet new entrants in their industry.

However, digital networking is not without its limits. Many can attest that while it trumps traditional methods in terms of quantity, this does not always translate into actual new business or opportunities. Traditional networking approaches still have their merits, and many networking gurus have argued that truly successful networking occurs when these approaches are paired with modern methods.

Quality with quantity.    Relationships fostered online are often not as strong as those initiated and developed in the real world. While digital networking may allow you to collect many contacts within a limited time, no amount of technological progression can replicate the human touch in relationships. Understandably, you can’t meet all your contacts in person. However, try taking on a more proactive role online; tweeting, sharing, tagging and commenting are all valid methods of relationship building in the digital age. 

Information and interaction.    To achieve effective results, traditional networking approaches have to go hand in hand with 21st century access to information. For example, through online forums or social media, you might find that a potential contact is visiting your region or travelling to the same conference as you are. By contacting them online and offering to meet them in person, you are taking advantage of a networking opportunity that would have otherwise slipped by unnoticed. 

Cross-community linking.   Through your online interactions, you might find that you have contacts who can potentially assist one another or who possess information that can benefit another group. By acting as a broker between two different communities, offering to connect people in real life with contacts you’ve met online, or facilitating the transfer of information between groups that otherwise would not come into contact with one another, you will be drawing upon both technology and traditional networking approaches to help out your contacts and to increase your value to others.

So don’t be too quick to consign your name-cards to the bonfire. Effective networking in the 21st century requires an amalgamation of both traditional and modern approaches, blurring the boundaries between online and offline networks. By treating everyone you come into contact with as part of your extended network and actively helping others, not to obtain favors or monetary benefits but because you value and care for them, you too can be a successful 21st century networker.

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