Like most of my solo and small firm colleagues, I’m a fan of online networking, i.e., building meaningful and trusted relationships through listserves, Linkedin.com and Facebook.com and blogs. Not only do these online tools help us find clients or share our knowlege and expertise with others and improve the quality of the profession at large, but they also mitigate against sense of isolation that many solos otherwise experience.
For those who don’t use online networking tools, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing has an instructive post on how to get started. Jantsch writes that ultimately, online networking isn’t all that different from conventional networking – only the tools have changed.
Jantsch’s advice is terrific, but I think he overlooks one important point: ultimately, to get the most out of online networking, you need to take it off grid. I’ve built many, many close relationships online blogging, listserves and email correspondence. But in every case and without exception, what’s always solidified the relationship and made it click is a personal rather than virtual connection. Maybe it’s an in-person meeting, but even a phone call does the trick. Hearing the sound of a voice or a laugh, seeing a smile or shaking a hand satisfies a human curiousity and conveys the kind of information that no amount of bandwidth is broad enough to carry. And in person meetings or phone calls not only smooth a tense online relationships characterized by vigorous disagreement, but actually make them bloom — because the personal interaction somehow makes us realize that because of our passion, we have more in common than our online discourse (and even namecalling) might suggest. That’s not to minimize the value of building relationships online – that process lays the groundwork for personal interaction and helps us to screen out those whom we’d like to meet. But at the end of the day, an online relationship will eventually falter without a dose of human contact.
So tomorrow before you head home for the weekend, why not pick up the phone and calling an online friend or colleague, with no other motive than simply to say hello or invite them to share a cup of coffee? Taking that relationship off line will ensure that you keep it on course.