Saturday, January 3, 2009

Don't ignore your "offline" networks

The other day I got a quick, early morning workout in at our neighborhood YMCA. I was a little surprised when I noticed nearly 80 percent of those working out were 70 or older. It was like a scene straight out of the 1980s hit "Cocoon" (OK, I'm dating myself now). Then, I started to notice the elderly gentleman working out on the treadmill next to me had a steady stream of visitors. The guy knew virtually every person who walked by. I immediately and affectionately dubbed him "the mayor."

Where am I going with this story?

This guy clearly has a very large social network. If he knows this many folks at the Y--how many do you think he knows at his local church? How big is his network of friends, former coworkers and extended family? I'm guessing it's huge. Remember, he's the "mayor." 

Point is, as we invest significant time and energy in online networks and tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, it's wise not to forget the personal, "offline" networks we've built over the years. It's incredible to be able to connect with people like Danny Brown, Mack Collier and Sarah Evans in Twitterville. But, the lunches I had last week with my good friends Sara Masters and Brie Gunderson were just as important. 

It's the same principles, but that face time makes all the difference. It's irreplaceable. It's no wonder you see Twitter relationships blossom after people meet at TweetUps or at conferences. I've noticed a few instances of this online recently--Shannon Paul, Amber Naslund, Liz Strauss and others connecting in Chicago. Mack Collier and other "tweeting up" in Hunstville. Once these folks meet in person, it cements the relationship. They're instantly more likely to provide advice. To point out interesting articles. And to help each other along the way. 

So tonight, instead of spending an extra 30 minutes on Twitter or 20 minutes updating your Facebook status and sharing photos, try one of the following:

* Reach out to a former colleague, ask them to lunch and see what's new in their world. 
* Call a member of your professional organization whom you've fallen out of touch with and find out how you can help them. 
* Send a personal, handwritten note to a former manager and tell them how they made a difference in your professional life.
* Meet someone new by asking one of your current colleagues or partners to introduce you to a person in their network whom they think you may share common interests. Great way to expand and diversify your network.
* Always wanted to connect with someone at Google, Nike or Best Buy? Ask your people in your personal network if they know folks at these organizations. And if they do, would they mind brokering an introduction?

Building and nurturing these personal relationships will complement your online networks nicely and give you additional opportunities to learn, collaborate and share in 2009. And, in an economy like the one we're mired in now, that's more important than ever.

What about you? What will you do in the weeks ahead to solidify your offline networks? Any other tips to share?


Mack Collier said...

Offline is where it's at, no doubt about it. I blogged about this a few days ago, but if you can't make SXSW or another big conference, then do a local tweetup. The point is to get started meeting these people that you 'know' online.

ME Strauss said...

What's really special is that now the two finally seem to be coming together. Some of are seamlessly moving between them and more of us are trying to do the same. When that happens we'll all just have more tools to commmunicate and understand who we are.

kpkfusion said...

Why should online and offline be different? They just have different adoption rates.

What we explore online, hopefully, we would be comfortable committing to offline interaction - albeit to different degrees of investment of time, depending on how much social investment we want to make in the relationship.

Twitter etc., just tools. Relationships and exchanges have the real value which I think is your point. The other point that you are making that is so important is that often the face to face meetings help to create trust. That happens to some degree online as well, but we never quite get to the point of interpersonal relationships without the face to face meeting "putting a name with a face". Query, because 70% of all communication is non- verbal so we probably need to experience non-verbal interaction to build relationships.

Solid post. K.

Plangarden said...

Excellent reminder. More than ever, our friends and acquaintances need moral support, compassion, a buddy to make us laugh during troubled times. Nothing can replace a warm genuine hug. Not even a genuine smiley :)

Connie Bensen said...

Hi Arik,
As you probably know I'm a huge proponent of the online world. There are some of us like Becky McCray & I that are geographically challenged by choice. (She is 90 miles from Starbucks & I'm 60 miles). :)

I developed strong relationships online & was content with that. But I do have to admit that after a year's time, meeting people at Blogworld was awesome! My infrequent visits to MSP SMB are enjoyable, but they're more like conferences.

I just mentioned to my boss that people are really surprised to hear that I was hired without meeting them in person. I think it's a testament to what I believe in. Best Buy just hired someone similarly. :)

But, admittedly there are certainly social aspects missing. I am going to be adding two new formats to my blog to help offset that. It won't replace the human interaction, but I will continue to press on.

(Last summer I considered going back to a traditional job - but being dressed & out the door by 8 am or so just didn't seem plausible anymore ;) )

Arik C. Hanson, APR said...

Mack--I'm hoping to join a few local tweet-ups this year. Also, thinking of starting a Midwest regional blogger social. Hmmm...
KPKFusion--Agree on the relationship issue. That's the point, exactly. Just think you can do build those relationships more quickly and more solidly in person. I've met a ton of people online this past year, but have met very few and don't feel as connected to them as I do my "in person" network.
Connie--Hear you on the 8-to-5er. I understand the unique benefits SM has for folks like you. However, like you said, the in person connections just can't be replaced. From your blog, I've noticed the folks you've had a chance to meet recently. Gotta believe that made a huge difference--both personally and professionally. All about the personal, human interaction.

virtuallori said...

This is great advice. Many of my colleagues and contacts still don't function in the online world, and a large portion of them have no intentions of diving in any time soon. It's important to remember that offline connections are just as important as online connections.

davidmullen said...

You definitely need to balance the two. I strongly believe that no technology will replace the power of face-to-face. The technology is necessary and amazing and connects you to people you wouldn't know otherwise. But you still need to look into people's eyes, shake their hands and pat them on the back. I don't think that will ever change.

Great reminder!

Danny Brown said...

What many people often forget is that it's the offline engineers, or developers, or tech whizkids that make the online worlds happen. Without these offline endeavors we wouldn't even be having this conversation now via your comments, or on Twitter.

So definitely - enjoy the online experience to the hilt but never forget where it comes from.

Iggy P said...

Good topic. Maybe it's a bit of both - something I call "Inline"

Cheers, Iggy