Ask someone to define the difference between the three biggest social media sites, and you will probably be told that Facebook is where you stay in touch with people you know; Twitter is where you get in touch with people you would like to know; and LinkedIn is where you find people who you wish knew you.
What they all have in common, other than the ability to promote products and services, is that they provide opportunities for networking.
You can get to meet new people, discover a little about them and create an opportunity to begin building the sort of trust that leads to sales.
And as anyone who has ever attended a conference or pitched a product in person knows, there is a huge difference between the kind of shallow relationships that can take months to deepen on a social media site and the genuine memories that are created when you meet someone face-to-face, exchange business cards, and swap opinions about the weather, the business environment, or a presentation you have both just heard.
A single, pleasant conversation held over coffee and croissants will do so much more than a few quick tweets or replies to a comment on a Facebook post. You do not just come to know what they look like or how well they tweet. You come to understand how pleasant they are in company and how easy they are to deal with. You have met eye to eye.
It is very different from the simple, shallow contacts available on a social media platform.
Real Contact Creates Trust, Virtual Contact Maintains and Spreads It
That does not mean that social media has no networking advantages at all. On the contrary, all of those sites do bring benefits. But those benefits are strongest when the hard work is performed first away from the computer.
Social media networking is better at maintaining relationships than forming them. It is better at reinforcing trust than creating it. It keeps a good opinion fresh in someone’s mind so that it is there, ready, when someone you have met in person needs the services you provide — or meets someone else who does.
And that second situation is no less important than the first. Your networking should not just be bringing in jobs from the people you meet. It should also be bringing in recommendations from those contacts to the people they meet.
Trust is created offline. But it is both maintained and spread on social media in a way that annual conferences and occasional get-togethers just cannot do.
A lot has been said about the value of social media networking and how telecommuting means that dealmakers no longer have to fly around the country and meet in person. And so much of it is exaggerated. We now live in an era that has two hugely valuable networking tools — and you should be using both of them together.
Keep attending conferences and take the opportunity to fly around and meet the people you want to do business with. But make sure the business cards you hand out have your Facebook and Twitter accounts on them and use those channels to sustain and spread the trust your journey has created.