Online and face-to-face networking offer best of both worlds

Professionals around the world know networking plays a crucial role in growing their businesses. It’s no longer a mystery that with the right connections, businesses can land the right deals and form stronger partnerships, in turn improving their bottom lines.

Professionals everywhere are always looking for ways to optimize, streamline and otherwise improve their networking — and along comes such social networking sites as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

What exactly does this mean to a savvy networker? An interesting platform, at best. But a savvy networker also knows that nothing beats a handshake.

Walk into any networking event, and you’ll see some people who seem to stare more at their drinks or plates of food than anything else in the room. They might remain on the outskirts of the room or quite possible tucked away into one of the side rooms. This type of person rarely makes eye contact if you see them from across the room. Generally, they’ll stay with someone they trust, such as a spouse or good friend, for the entire night.

A face-to-face networking event can be a down right terrifying prospect for a person who’s shy. To an introverted person, networking literally becomes a necessary evil.

Social networking provides shy people a way to hide behind a computer screen and interact with people, quite possibly being able to say things about their own businesses they can only dream of saying in a public forum.

Introverts might not be jumping for joy at the prospect of going to a networking event. This does not mean that they don’t want to meet people, however. There are many introverted people who are very active on social networks — in fact, I’m married to one.

Social networking can make you very visible in the community. However, the disadvantages can often cancel out the good.

People who engage in social networking as their primary source of networking will have problems moving back into a face-to-face world, including when it comes time to “close the deal.” Avid social networkers could slip further and further behind their computer screens and voicemails, leaving potential customers wondering if they’re real people.

The connection online is tenuous at best and can be easily severed or forgotten. Social networking is at its best when it’s augmented by physical face-to-face interactions with the people with which you’re connected online.

Networking online should not be the only networking you do. Remember that networking online only augments face-to-face networking and will never replace a firm handshake and eye contact.

For those who feel uncomfortable at networking events, it’s time to get creative. Start at smaller events —maybe even only 10 people or less — and if possible ensure you know most if not all of the people in the room.  Begin with the simple goal of letting those people know one goal you have for the upcoming year.

Next, catch up with the people that you met at the event online. Make a stronger connection with them through keeping in touch with them online. This will not only strengthen the relationship, it will make it easier to talk to this connection at a larger networking event.

When you find yourself getting comfortable, it’s time to challenge yourself to attend a new event with a few more people.  Networking is not easy for everyone, but for an introvert it does help when you feel you’re walking into a room of friends.

Ivan Misner, lead author of “Networking Like a Pro: Turning Contacts into Connections,” reminds us that networking is about long-term connections. Misner writes: “People tend to forget about the importance of long-term credibility because they’re so focused on making an immediate sale.”

Focus on your credibility with the people you’re networking with and not only will your network grow, you’ll also increase the friendliness of any room into which you walk.