Is traditional business networking being replaced by online networking & marketing for small businesses?

In a time when people seem to be glued to their smartphones and much of their day spent consuming information from the internet, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether traditional business networking still has a place in today’s fast paced, internet driven business world.

The impression that everyone you see these days has their face in a small screen is more than an impression. A study by Hootsuite early in 2019 show that on average in the UK, we spend nearly 6 hours a day online, half of that is on a mobile device. That’s 25% of our life!  Naturally, there is a demographic bias towards the younger elements of society, but the fact is GenX and Millennials are firmly in the business space and are one of the most significant forces driving trends in business communication. Quite simply, you can’t ignore this.

Key thoughts:

  • Online networking compliments traditional business networking, not replaces it.
  • Online networking can build new introductions for business networking groups.
  • Traditional business networking benefits from leveraging the scope of online networking.
  • Trust is a key business enabler, social media networking can help build trust.
  • Business cards (paper or electronic) are a gateway to your digital persona.
  • Whether you like it or not, you have a digital persona – own it.

So, in such a world, what place is there for traditional word of mouth venues, such as business networking groups? Well, it seems that there is no change in the belief that actually  meeting people face-to-face is critical to running a successful business. A statistic from an Oxford Economics study indicated that 40% of prospects become new customers with in-person meetings. As these are typically hard earned prospects gained through normal a sales & marketing processes,  imagine for a moment if these prospects came from personal referrals – imagine what the conversion rate could improve by! After all, we all know that the best prospects are gained through personal referrals.

And business cards?

An interesting statistic comes from Moo – the online business card company. Moo’s study showed that, according to 90% of business owners, business cards help land new business. I hear the cynics among you say “well they would say that, wouldn’t they?”. Even if the rate was just 45%, it’s still a good thing, is it not? Usually though, you can only give somebody a business card if you are face-to-face with them, and having a discussion with a prospect where you get the opportunity to ‘be asked’ for your card and thereby the chance to develop your relationship with that prospect post meeting, is our goal. Business cards are definitely old-school in the scheme of things, but underline the fact that face-to-face meetings are incredibly important, both in gaining new opportunities and closing them. After all, people buy from people.

How is the rise of social media, online advertising and online networking in general, affecting traditional business networking?

In short, at this time, it appears that they are definitely more complimentary than competitive. While it is entirely possible to conduct a new business transaction online and never see or meet the buyer, real business, i.e. business that leads to the creation of long term business relationships, definitely requires the personal touch. Even if the initial contact is digital, where significant value is involved, the parties need to meet. This is just good due diligence.

Most businesses are looking to build strong relationships with clients. If the business is online retail, face-to-face is naturally difficult and so great customer service is essential, but most ‘networkers’ usually run ‘service industry’ type businesses, such as professional services – firms lawyers, accountants, consulting practices, marketing agencies, leadership and coaching, charitable organisations . . . the list goes on. All of these businesses thrive on personal encounters, where there’s an opportunity for the business’s personality to shine through – usually through the owner or individual representing the firm. Why? Because it’s all about developing relationships first, and you can only really do that in person.

Social validation is a key consideration in business relationship development

Relationship development is at the heart of business social media and on-line networking. You’d be forgiven, though, for taking a cynical view of this given just how social media is used by some folks. Like any communications medium, it’s abused. In many ways, social media abuse is no different from unwanted phone calls and emails and we need to get over that. However, used professionally, social media is a highly valuable tool, one that can significantly enhance business relationship development. The key thing to remember though, is that it is a tool and one to be used in partnership with your existing tools – namely the personal side of relationship building. It should be used to help foster first contact in person and in helping identify the people who would benefit most from a relationship with you (or the EAGB). Naturally, venues like LinkedIn are central to this. In fact, for most of us, just like Google is the most obvious place to search for something, LinkedIn is the logical place to seek out new business relationships.

The real power of social media and why it makes for such a great complimentary addition to your business growth strategy, is its power in bringing social validation to your business, or indeed the EAGB. For many businesses looking to find new partners or simply new business, it comes down to one thing – TRUST. The world is full of scammers and the internet has only exacerbated this situation. Indeed, even meeting people face-to-face, is no guarantee. So that’s why having positive and verifiable references from other people is so important – whether this is through other EAGB networking group members, industry references or even social media citations. Quite simply, it’s about building trust and being able to demonstrate that the trust exists around you and your business.

In closing

A final thought on the power of social media in complimenting your networking efficiency.

Consider the acquisition path for a new client in today’s tech heavy, social media centric world. The ‘generations’ setting communications trends in business today have often done their research and have a fair idea of who they want to work with before they even meet you. Even if they haven’t and are meeting you for the first time at the EAGB, their next step is likely going to be checking out your online profile. So while you may hand them a traditional business card, it is just a gateway to your digital persona, one you need to own.

The challenge we face as business professionals, is not in worrying about how new technologies threaten traditional ways, but how they may be embraced to enhance our business creation potential in the future. For many, traditional business networking is likely to remain the preeminent path to generating new business, regardless of new technology, simply because that’s how their business works. There are many more though, that definitely would benefit from the complimentary use of new networking technology as part of their ‘normal’ networking activities – not just because it’s a growing trend, but also because businesses are beginning to expect this from their potential partners as it shows the initiative and foresight they look for in a tech savvy partner.

About the author

Robin Brown is a passionate photographer, who just happens to have spent most of his career working in technology and digital marketing. Currently, he is managing director of Occam Digital Ltd and Columbus Travel Media Ltd.


All articles are the opinion of the author and do not represent the views of the EAGB.

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