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Gemma Harding


Head of Client Services

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Networking: Online vs face-to-face


Gemma Harding muses over the key benefits, similarities and differences of both face-to-face and online networking.
Very few people can make their work life or business flourish without making connections with others. It’s how we collaborate, expand client bases, and sometimes get jobs in the first place. 
Almost gone are the days of swapping tips on the golf course, as more and more alternative ways to network are springing up all over Britain, and indeed the world, in an attempt to get people to swap business cards in slightly unusual ways.
Some like to combine making work connections with breaking a sweat – ‘sweatworking’ – with company sports days, and ‘netwalking’, where people get to know each other in the great outdoors, rather than in a drab function room in a business park.
Tracy Roemer, who co-founded Shred415, a popular yoga and fitness studio in Chicago, thinks that exercise being incorporated into networking events “lets you break down barriers you wouldn’t be able to if you were just sitting next to someone at a bar”. Once people’s suits and ties come off, and the trainers go on, their front comes down and they can relate to everyone around them on a different level. 
For the less athletically inclined, quite the opposite is on offer, in the form of catered meet-ups and events that are designed to enhance the sociable elements, rather than keeping it strictly business. 
The Bury Business Curry Club in Greater Manchester meets for “an informal meeting with no membership fees [and] no 10-minute presentations". The menu is clearly instrumental in bringing people through the door, and it’s organised by various local business owners, helping people make connections in their area. 
Global networking
Local connections aren’t always as powerful as global ones, however, and with the popularity of Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s easy to see why a lot of networking is now done online. It’s undoubtedly easier, faster and allows us to be more concise - a 140-character limit certainly forces you to get to the point. Getting on a plane to a relevant conference in another country could be far out of reach, but joining in with an international webchat or Skype call isn’t.
Removing much of the physical effort – we can see who’s been looking at our LinkedIn profile without leaving the sofa – certainly makes our networking lives easier, but that doesn’t mean it’s not actively enhancing it at the same time. It takes time and effort to regularly maintain a relevant industry blog or keep up to date with the latest developments via Twitter, and people are often rewarded for their effort by igniting comment and conversation with the right people. 
It’s stereotypical to assume that Millennials will be the most interested in networking via social media, when it’s become such a huge part of most people’s day-to-day communication, regardless of age or background, but maybe keeping sociability entirely online will stunt the diversity of an event. 
The traditional face-to-face networking event, regardless of bizarre location or theme, and the tried and tested method of drinking wine and swapping business cards, will always be preferential to the traditionalists among us, or simply those who find it easier to talk to people when they’re right in front of them. Shaking up old practices and incorporating elements that are familiar to us through social media, brevity being the main one, could be the way forward.
‘Lightning Talks’ are events where participating speakers do talks that can last anywhere from one to 10 minutes, but with no multimedia help. They can use the whole 10 minutes, but the challenge comes with keeping people engaged with the spoken content alone. The speed dating format has also been reworked in recent years, as a way to pitch ideas to multiple people and make quick connections. 
The main similarity between face-to-face and social networking is that the sharing of ideas is paramount. Both facilitate this in different ways and suit different kinds of people, but we’re undoubtedly spoilt for choice in the way we network.
Gemma Harding is head of client services at CallCare, an outreach call centre based throughout the UK.

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Gemma Harding

Head of Client Services

Read more from Gemma Harding

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