Is online or offline networking the way to go?
Networking is a long held tradition to whip up contacts and create further referral systems for your business. With a spike in recent times of online networking, Peter Horgan looks at whether face-to-face or laptop chatting is more beneficial
The beauty of online networking is that it can be done from anywhere. Your kitchen office, your sofa or your comfy couch. New social media sites are popping up everywhere,yet the main players remain Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
“The thing is you are going directly to the person you want to talk to using Twitter,” says Orla Azocar of JustBoo.ie, an online promotional merchandise provider in Cork.
“You can only really showcase on Facebook, whereas with Twitter, you can target people like the marketing manager at a particular company that may require merchandise for an upcoming event they have. We’ve been on Twitter for three months so far and have seen approximately a 10 per cent rise in business through the site.”
Orla insists that conversation and building relationships is vital when engaging in online, with an emphasis on not bombarding people with endless promotional messages.
“You have to be more human, inject a bit of humour into your posts,” says Orla, whose business was named as the IreBiz of the day a number of weeks ago – a social media trend where your business is promoted virally to other companies on Twitter.
“Face-to-face networking doesn’t have much of an impact for me. It takes so much time out of your day and you’re never guaranteed of a follow up. Online is the way to go, you don’t need a plush, swanky office either!”
However, members of one of the largest networking organisations in the world, BNI – Business Networking International - insist that online and offline networking have to work hand in hand.
“Most people, especially sales people, enter networking meetings with a hunting mentality, ie how many business cards can I give out here,” says Samantha Rathling, a Director Consultant with the BNI Cork City Chapter.
“Your reputation is at stake with what say you off-line and online. Negativity and stories can spread so quickly, which is why we encourage members to be positive. I only like online positivity, especially the way the economy is at the moment.”
Samantha insists that word of mouth is still the best method of generating business, particularly through recommendations.
“It’s the way most small businesses still get business. Nonetheless, it is important to have an online presence and strategy. I offer classes in LinkedIn for people to fully utilise what’s available to them in the online forums.”
BNI Ireland South and West claims it has generated over €87 million in business through networks made through their meetings, while the Cork City Chapter of the group supports 218 local jobs in Cork and generated over €7.2 million in Cork since 2009.
“Over 90 per cent of my business comes from networking, both online and offline,” says Samantha, who is also Managing Director at Recruitment Magic.
“BNI is always training its members on the value of networking, and recently introduced training to members on the value of social media and online networking in conjunction with the offline or face to face networking. This is all included in membership and is one of the reasons our members are thriving, not just surviving.”