Thursday, September 3, 2009

Is Online Networking Replacing Offline Networking?

I want to make each blog post meaningful and offer advice others can learn from. That’s why I chose the topic of networking. Networking is an important part of doing business. This post shares the story of a couple of networking groups specifically for communications professionals and describes their mistakes and successes.

Most of us have heard the phrase: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” So when I first started out as a self-employed public relations consultant, I joined networking groups. At the time, there was no Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

However, there was a local independent group of professional communicators based in Princeton, NJ called the NJ Communications, Advertising and Marketing Association (NJ CAMA). It was there that I met colleagues with whom I could network, find vendors (photographers, printers, designers, etc.), and make new friends. From having hundreds of members in the 1990’s to being on the verge of folding today, the story of NJ CAMA shows how online networking (coupled with a bad economy) pushed a once-strong networking group to the brink of collapse.

During my time on NJ CAMA’s program committee, we brought in some amazing experts to speak – George Gallup, Jr. (gallup.com), Malcolm Forbes, Jr. (forbes.com), Seymour Chwast http://www.pushpininc.com/, Mike Quon http://www.quondesign.com/, Lois Geller http://www.loisgellermarketinggroup.com/, Nancye Green http://www.donovanandgreen.com/bios/ng.html, Cheryl Heller http://www.hellercd.com/, David Carson http://www.davidcarsondesign.com/, Patrice Tanaka http://www.crt-tanaka.com/about/tanaka.php, Martin Pedersen http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/medalist-martinpedersen, Jack Keil (McGruff the Crime Dog), Don Middleberg http://www.middlebergcommunications.com, Landon Jones http://www.drspock.com/about/board/directors/0,1809,ljones,00.html, Andy Cooper http://www.cooperkatz.com/index.php/team_details/Andy_Cooper/, Bernard Flanagan (wsj.com), Stuart Elliot http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/e/stuart_elliott/index.html, Matthew Boyle http://www.businessweek.com/bios/Matthew_Boyle.htm, Brad Aronson http://www.razorfish.com, Steve McKee http://www.mckeewallworkcleveland.com/, Jeff Tobe http://www.jefftobe.com/, and Shelley Spector http://www.spectorandassociates.net/, to name a few.

How could a group that brought these amazing luminaries to Princeton, NJ over the past 20 years be on the verge of folding in 2009?

Online networking may have drawn members away from “real world” meetings but NJ CAMA did make mistakes that hurt them just as much as the advent of social media for networking. The group continued to hold monthly lunch meetings, while the economy forced people to work longer hours. We didn’t have time to leave the office for a long lunch. It was also a time-consuming task to get “big name” speakers to come to Princeton and present to an independent group. Sometimes it was easier to book the local printer or local paper distributor as a speaker. However, those types of events don’t tend to draw much of a crowd.

Bill Petzinger, current president of NJ CAMA and one of the forces behind its resurrection says, “Online networking has impacted offline networking groups. For example, one reason attendance went down considerably at NJ CAMA's monthly networking events was folks couldn't commit to a three-hour event when you factor in travel. Most individuals prefer to network online because they can accomplish more in a few hours spread out over a week at their convenience versus what may take months. Offline groups can't compete with the efficiency of online networking. That said, you still need face-to-face networking, which is vital. So offline networking still has its benefits. I think the most successful networking groups are those that have the right balance of online networking and off.”

During the past couple of years – while NJ CAMA was on a downward spiral – I helped found a small networking group about 20 miles away, The River Communications Group http://www.rivercommunicationsgroup.com/homepage.html. Much smaller than NJ CAMA, the group meets about 3 – 4 times a year, does not charge membership dues, and brings in great speakers like Peter Shankman www.shankman.com. It was Mr. Shankman, in his talk on social networking, who suggested that the River Communications Group start a Facebook group.

Through Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=14277227606&ref=mf), about 135 members post job listings, share information, and network. One of their most instructive real world meetings was the recent “Free and Low Cost Tools for Creatives”. Presented by three members of the River Communications Group, the panelists described design, animation, typography, color and podcasting software, brainstorming, text editing, screen capture, web testing, and collaboration tools and plug ins. Their presentations can be found here, http://www.rivercommunicationsgroup.com/oct23-meeting.html

As social media becomes a popular networking tool, we take what little spare time we have to set up professional profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Sometimes it’s easier to stay at our desks and network than to go out in the real world and meet face to face.

But in order to be successful, we need to do both, network online and offline.

According to blogger Kyle Lacy (http://kylelacy.com/taking-an-online-relationship-offline-and-going-deeper), “The sharing of information and idea generation has always been a staple in the increased support of social media. I started using social media as a way to gain more insight into technology, entrepreneurship, and the overall aspect of viral marketing. What I have found is (while all the information is great) there is a point where a person stops and wants something more from a relationship or an acquaintance.”

According to Renee Lemley’s Gray Matter Minute blog, http://www.graymatterminute.com/2009/02/26/move-your-online-network-offline/ “If you enjoy your time talking with people online, imagine the reward of talking with those same people offline.”

John Jantsch posted an informative article about online and offline networking back in 2008, http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/2008/02/02/is-networking-online-really-that-different/

Here are links to some professional groups you can join online. If you would like to recommend others, please add them.

On LinkedIn
Social Media Marketing, http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=66325&trk=anetsrch_name&goback=.gdr_1251746976086_1

Communication Arts, http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=66136&trk=anetsrch_name&goback=.gdr_1251746976086_1

Innovative Marketing, PR, Sales, Word-of-Mouth & Buzz Innovators
http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=54066&trk=anetsrch_name&goback=.gdr_1251746976088_1

On Facebook

Creative Writing
http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=creative&init=quick#/apps/application.php?id=160632895175&ref=search&sid=1257192697.1530721764..1

Graphic Design and Adobe Photoshop

http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=design&init=quick#/group.php?gid=2204613428&ref=search&sid=1257192697.3444529712..1

Facebook for Business
http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=business&init=quick#/group.php?gid=2358208324&ref=search&sid=1257192697.148074040..1

On Twitter, I follow
http://twitter.com/digitalbrandexp
http://twitter.com/Frank_Strong
http://twitter.com/rskemps

5 comments:

  1. The one thing about the world online that really stands out for me? The ability to meet people you might not otherwise have met. On social mediums, I've spoken to you, Beth, David Meerman Scott, Karl Rove, Tonya Reis and other people that I would have never spoken to otherwise. Online networking amazing in that respect. Nice post.

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  2. Great post, Beth.

    I don't necessarily agree with Bill Petzinger that online networking has affected offline networking. He actually said what caused the problem — most people can't commit to a three-hour break from the day. Online networking may have filled in the networking hole created by the now-former attendees, but that's a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

    I blogged about your article, and said I think it's more a matter of priorities and ability to take three hours out of one's day than it is anything online networking has done.

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