I saw a report recently that 27% of people that use social networking online find that it helps their offline relationships grow. I think that's true for the same reason that writing letters a hundred years ago allowed people to maintain relationships when they were separated. It's the fundamental touch and communication that helps people to bond, better know each other, and build trust.
When I started in my career, there were relatively few ways to network with others, and they all required a lot of time. You had to spend time out of work going to happy hour, some professional event, or playing golf. You spent time with people, but you could touch relatively few people for your effort. While you can build strong relationships this way, they can be hard to maintain.
As we've added new tools in the digital world, it's become easier to maintain relationships. Email allowed us to communicate quicker, and it seemed to allow exchanges between people with less effort than writing a letter and mailing it. However it wasn't necessarily more scalable in terms of networking yourself. Instant Messaging sped things up further, seeming to allow shorter, quicker, real time conversations, but it still wasn't much more scalable than email.
Then came social media. Whether you like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or something else, there seem to be a more efficient way to reach out to people. It allows you to share some of what you're involved in, or see what others are involved in, and respond in an open manner. It's like a hallway conversation or cocktail party gathering where the participants are constantly changing, coming in and out of the conversation on their terms.
I don't think that social networking replaces offline relationships, but it can definitely help you maintain some of those contacts you have in a more efficient manner. If you haven't tried any of these tools, I'd urge you to give once a try and see if you can connect with some of the people you value with as career contacts. I think it will help you keep your network strong and you never know what opportunities that might open.
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